If it had been necessary that his name should be publicly proclaimed at the present season, it would have been uttered by him who saw the Apocalypse. For it was seen no such long time ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.
This is twice quoted by Eusebius,
who supplies us with the original Greek. The translation has been disputed by a number of scholars,
on the ground that it means that he (John) was seen; but this is very dubious.
One must assume that Irenaeus believed the Apocalypse to have come from c. 95, although unlike Eusebius he does not link it with Domitian's persecution nor specifically with his fourteenth year, of which Eusebius's Chronicle records: 'Persecution of Christians and under him the apostle John is banished to Patmos and sees his Apocalypse, as Irenaeus says.'
But before accepting this date at its face value one must recognize that Irenaeus is making three statements:
that the author of the Apocalypse and of the fourth gospel are one and the same person;
that this person is the apostle John; and
that the Apocalypse was seen at the end of Domitian's reign.
There are few scholars who would accept all three statements, and many who would reject both the first two. Hort was able to accept the first two only because he rejected the third: 'It would be easier to believe that the Apocalypse was written by an unknown John than that both books belong alike to John's extreme old age.'We may leave the question of authorship till we come to the relation of Revelation to the other Johannine writings. But whatever the relationship, it is difficult to credit that a work so vigorous as the Apocalypse could really be the product of a nonagenarian, as John the son of Zebedee must by then have been, even if he were as much as ten years younger than Jesus. So if Irenaeus' tradition on authorship is strong, his tradition on dating is weakened, and vice versa.
Even more difficult to attach to a Domitianic date is the tradition which Eusebius goes on to quote from Clement of Alexandria:
When on the death of the tyrant he removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus, he used to go off, when requested, to the neighbouring districts of the Gentiles also, to appoint bishops in some places, to organize whole churches in others, in others again to appoint to an order some one of those who were indicated by the Spirit.
To illustrate the last Clement then tells the tale of a young man whom John persuaded the local bishop to sponsor and bring up as his protege. The story covers a number of years, over which this youth went to the bad, and it ends with the apostle going to visit him on horseback and then chasing him 'with all his might'! All this is inconceivable after 96. Clement, however, nowhere mentions the name of 'the tyrant'. He could have been an earlier emperor: it is only Eusebius who identifies him with Domitian.
This is not of course to say that Eusebius was the source of this identification. Apart from quoting Irenaeus, he refers to 'the record of our ancient men'(i.e. in all probability the Memoirs of Hegesippus) for the tradition that 'the apostle John also took up his abode once more at Ephesus after his exile' under Domitian's successor Nerva. Moreover Victorinus , who antedates Eusebius, says that John was 'condemned to the mines in Patmos by Domitian Caesar' where he saw his Apocalypse, which he published after being released upon the death of the emperor.
Yet the identification is by no means solid. Clement's disciple Origen writes in his Commentary on Matthew [In Matt. 20.22.] that 'the emperor of the Romans, as tradition teaches, condemned John to the isle of Patmos', adding that John does not say who condemned him. This does not of course prove that Origen did not know, but the absence of a name is again to be noted, especially since Origen does name Herod as having beheaded John's brother James.
The fact that the condemnation is seen as the direct act of the emperor may link up with the tradition preserved earlier by Tertullianthat John's banishment was from Rome,
where Peter suffered a death like his Master [i.e., crucifixion], where Paul was crowned with the death of John [the Baptist] [i.e., execution],
where the apostle John, after being plunged in burning oil and suffering nothing, was banished to an island.
['Ubi Paulus Johannis exitu coronatur.' The translation follows that of P. de Labriolle in Tertullian, Praescr., ed., R. F. Refoule (Sources Chretiennes 46), Pans I957, which gives excellent sense. F. Oehler, ed., Leipzig 1854, ad loc., refers to his note on Scorp. 9 for the fact that in Tertullian 'exitus' regularly means death'. For a strong defence of Tertullian's reliability at this point by a fellow lawyer, cf. K. A. Eckhardt, Der Tod des Johannes, Berlin 1961, 73-9. I am grateful again to Bammel for calling my attention to this strange but erudite book.]
This is the only association in ancient tradition of John with Rome. Jeromein quoting the passage interprets Tertullian to mean that John's suffering, like that of Peter and Paul, occurred under Nero - despite his own acceptance from Eusebius' Chronicle of the Domitianic date.
Epiphanius, a contemporary of Jerome's, whom Hort
and the History of John, the Son of Zebedee in Syriac
say that it was Nero who banished John.
Hort, who surveys the evidence with scrupulous fairness, sums up as follows:
We find Domitian and Nero both mentioned, as also an emperor not named. The matter is complicated by the manner in which St John is brought to Rome, or his banishment referred to the personal act of the emperor. It is moreover peculiarly difficult to determine the relation of the legend of the boiling oil to the Roman tradition of a banishment from Rome. On the one hand the tradition as to Domitian is not unanimous; on the other it is the prevalent tradition, and it goes back to an author likely to be the recipient of a true tradition on the matter, who moreover connects it neither with Rome nor with an emperor's personal act. If external tradition alone could decide, there would be a clear preponderance for Domitian.
despite this, Hort, together with Lightfoot
none of whom can be accused of sitting light to ancient tradition, still rejected a Domitianic date in favour of one between the death of Nero in 68 and the fall of Jerusalem in 70. It is indeed a little known fact that this was what Hort calls 'the general tendency of criticism' for most of the nineteenth century, and Peake cites the remarkable consensus of 'both advanced and conservative scholars' who backed it. Since then the pendulum has swung completely the other way. In his learned and exhaustive commentary
and A. Weigall in his biographical study of Nero.
It has also commended itself recently to the distinguished German jurist K. A. Eckhardt. It will not perhaps therefore be inappropriate to argue the question of date by examining again the strength of this case against those who have dismissed it, or more often ignored it. Charles never even alludes to Hort's presentation of the case for an early dating, and in the course of my investigations I have not come across a single modern New Testament scholar who comes down in favour of it - apart from Torrey, and now most recently and eccentrically J. Massyngberde Ford. Yet though the theologians may have forsaken it, the classicists have not. It was powerfully argued by Henderson, in his classic study of the reign of Nero , and he reaffirmed his belief in it many years later, commending and endorsing the strong statement of the same thesis by Edmundson which had appeared in the interval. It was also accepted by A. D. Momigliano in the Cambridge Ancient History
In turning to the evidence supplied by the book itself, we may consider first the historical and geographical situation which occasioned its writing. This demands to be considered under two heads. First there is the situation presupposed by chs.1-3, together with the coda of 22.6-21; and secondly there is the situation presupposed by the main body of the book, the visions of 4.1-22.5. In the former the scene is set in Asia Minor; in the latter the focus, in so far as it is upon earth at all, is in Rome and to a lesser extent in Jerusalem.
In this the book of Revelation corresponds to what we observed in I Peter. There we argued that while the opening and closing verses were directed towards the recipients of the epistle in Asia Minor, the background for understanding the homiletic material which makes it up was to be located rather in Rome. In fact the parallels between these documents are instructive. Both are dominated by a political situation that calls for the symbolic pseudonym of 'Babylon' and by an eschatological situation that compels the hope that the consummation cannot now be long delayed (I Peter 4.7; Rev.1.7; 3.11; 22.6f.,12,20). Both also presuppose that persecution has gone a good deal further in Rome than in Asia. Yet there are differences too. The area of Asia Minor is different, northern in I Peter, western in Revelation; and the author of the latter clearly reveals an informed personal acquaintance with place and circumstance of which the author of the former shows no sign. Above all the whole situation is considerably further advanced. In I Peter the judgment is only now beginning with the household of God, even in Rome (4.17); in Revelation Babylon is already gorged with the blood of the apostles and prophets and people of God (16.6; etc.). In Asia Minor too things have clearly gone beyond the verbal abuse that in I Peter mainly characterized the attack on Christians - though still in Revelation the pressure for some consists of slander, with the suffering (confined to a symbolic ten days in jail) yet to come (2.91.); and in all the churches there is as yet but one martyr to record (2.13). But what has decisively changed is the attitude to the state - from one of guarded reverence to one of open hostility. Yet there is nothing here so far to demand an interval of more than a few years the other side of that fiery ordeal which Peter had already recorded as starting (4.12) and which we saw good reason to identify with the Neronian progrom of 65.
A further instructive parallel is provided by the situation presupposed in Jude and II Peter, which we gave grounds for supposing to be addressed to Jewish Christians in some part of Asia Minor in 61-2. At that time indeed there was no hint of persecution, but there was plenty of evidence of insidious attack from gnosticizing, Judaizing heretics who were making false claims to leadership of the church and were scoffing at the Christian hope. We have already seen that the nearest parallels both for the gnosticizing tendencies and for the eschatological teaching in these epistles is not with second-century literature but with other New Testament writings to be dated in the late 50s and 60s - and with the book of Revelation. The themes in common with the last are sufficiently striking to merit more extended treatment.
In both, the false teachers are accused of the error of Balaam (Jude 11; II Peter 2.15; Rev.2.14), which in Revelation is closely associated with the teaching of the Nicolaitans (2.6,15). In both Christians are described as being lured into immorality (II Peter 2.14, 18; 3.17; Rev.2.20), into contaminating their clothing (Jude 23; Rev.3.4), and into disowning their Master (Jude 4; II Peter 2.1; Rev.2.13). There is the same contrast between the true and false γνῶσις (Jude 8; II Peter i.2f., 16; Rev. 2.17,24). The heretical teachers are claiming to be shepherds and apostles of Christ's flock (Jude 1.1f.; Rev.2.2), and there is a similar appeal to remember the teaching of the true apostles (Jude 17; II Peter 1.12; 3.if.; Rev.3.3), who are the foundation of the church and of its faith (Jude 3; Rev.21.14). The eschatological symbolism too shows remarkable parallels, with the day of Christ being likened not only, as in the common Christian tradition, to the thief (II Peter 3.10; Rev.3.3; 16.15) but uniquely in these two documents to the morning star (II Peter 1.19; Rev. 2.28; 22.16). In both the existing heavens and earth disappear (II Peter 3.10; Rev. 6.14; 16.20; 20.11) to be replaced by new (II Peter 3.13; Rev.21.1); in both the fallen angels are chained in the depths of hell (Jude 6; II Peter 2.4; Rev.20.1-3, 7), and appeal is made to the theme of a thousand years (II Peter 3.8; Rev.20.2-7).
All this could doubtless have come from almost any period, and if II Peter and Jude are not early the argument falls. Yet there is good reason to suppose that the Apocalypse too presupposes a time when the final separation of Christians and Jews had not yet taken place. For is it credible that the references in Rev.2.9 and 3.9 to those who claim to be Jews but are not' could have been made in that form after 70? For the implication is that Christians are the real Jews, the fullness of the twelve tribes (7.4-8; 21.12), and that if these Jews were genuinely the synagogue of Yahweh (as they claim) and not of Satan they would not be slandering 'my beloved people'. Even by the time of the Epistle of Barnabas, ἡ διαθήκη εἰς ἡμᾶς ἣ εἰς ἐκείνους), such language is no longer possible. Hort makes this point in his commentary on Rev. 2.9, but I have not noticed anyone else who does - apart again from Torrey. If it is valid, it helps to confirm that the remainder of this language belongs, as we argued earlier, to this same period.which, unlike the book of Revelation, clearly presupposes the destruction of the temple (16.1-4) and the irrevocable divide between 'them' and 'us' (cf.
The most noticeable feature in the account of what has actually been suffered by the churches of Asia, or is immediately likely to be, is the absence of any clear reference to the imperial cult, which pervades the rest of the book. There is nothing in the warnings and encouragements given to the congregations that requires us to pre-suppose more than Jewish harassment, the action of local magistrates, and general pagan corruption. Even in Pergamon, which is stated to be 'Satan's throne' (2.13), there is no compelling evidence that the allusion is to emperor-worship. In so far as Satan is characteristically for this writer 'the old serpent' (12.9; 20.2), the allusion may well be to the snake-worship associated with the shrine of Asclepius, of which the city was a centre. Even if, as later commentators tend to argue, the reference is to the temple consecrated there to 'the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma', this had been founded in 29 bc and does not of itself require a late date. Yet though emperor-worship can be read into the letters to the seven churches it is not demanded by them (in strong contrast with the visions that follow). Even if a gigantic statue of the Emperor Domitian was indeed erected in a temple at Ephesus, there is absolutely nothing in the letter to the Christians there to suggest that this was the issue they faced: their struggle was not with the state but with false apostles, the Nicolaitans, and loss of fervour within the church (2.1-7). This is not, of course, to deny that for the seer the final battle with the 'beast' underlay everything else. But the development of emperor-worship in the province of Asia cannot be used for determining the historical context into which the letters fit.
While on the subject of the letters to the churches, it will be appropriate to consider the objection often raised that they presuppose a state of affairs so far beyond that of Paul's time as to point to a later generation.This is one of those contentions that it is very difficult to handle. How much time is required for the Galatians 'so quickly' to have followed a different gospel (Gal. 1.6), or for the church of Ephesus to have lost its early love (Rev. 2.4), or for the church of Laodicea to have grown lukewarm (Rev.3.i5f.)? - especially since what we can tell about the state of the last from the epistle to the Colossians (2.1; 4.13-16), our only other source, amounts to precisely nothing. It is obviously impossible to set any firm figure. Yet considering all that we know happened to the only well-documented church, that of Corinth, in the seven and a half years between late 49 and early 57, the ten and a half years from mid-58 (on our reckoning, the date of Colossians) to late 68 (the earliest date for the Apocalypse) could surely have seen quite as many changes in the Asian churches -changes indeed which, according to Acts 20.291. and II Tim. 4.31., Paul himself clearly foresaw, and of which the Petrine epistles have already given us more than a glimpse. And, as we have said, there is nothing to suggest that there is any great interval between where these last leave off and the letters of Rev. 1-3 begin.
One objection however can be dismissed, which is
constantly repeated from one writer to another.
[E.g. Zahn, INT III, 4121.; Moffatt, Revelation, EGT, V, 317; ILNT, 507; Charles, Revelation I, xciv; McNeile-Williams, INT, 262; Kummel, INT, 469; and • most recently even the conservative L. Morris, The Revelation of St John (Tyndale NTC),1969,37.] This is that Polycarp in his epistle to the Philippians (i 1.3) states that his own church at Smyrna had not been founded till after the death of Paul - so that it could not therefore be addressed as it is in Rev. 2.8-11 as early as the late 60s. But, as Lightfoot observed long ago, all that Polycarp actually says
But I have not found any such thing in you, neither have heard thereof, among whom the blessed Paul laboured, who were his letters from the beginning. For he boasteth of you in all those churches which alone at that time knew the Lord; for we knew him not as yet.
Other editors prefer to supply a word in the
difficult phrase 'qui estis in principio epistulac eius' and take it to mean
'who are praised (or mentioned) in the beginning of his Epistle'; but this does
not affect the issue of dating.]
is that 'the Philippians were converted to the Gospel before the Smyrneans - a statement which entirely accords with the notices of the two churches in the New Testament'. It is astonishing that so much has continued to be built on so little.
A similar objection has sometimes been broughtagainst a date in the 60s from the fact that Laodicea, almost totally destroyed in the earthquake of 60-1, is addressed as an affluent church. But the city took pride in having rebuilt itself without waiting for help from imperial funds, and by the end of the decade might well have boasted,
How well I have done! I have everything I want in the world (Rev.3.17).
and re-edited in the reign of Domitian.
For their outlook, he says, is one in which Christians could still be expected to survive to the parousia ('Only hold fast to what you have, until I come', 2.25) and in which - a significant admission - 'there is not a single reference' to the imperial cult. holds that it is irrelevant to connect this with the reconstruction after the earthquake because by the 80s 'the incident is too far back'! This is an instance of how arbitrary dating procedures so often are. In contrast Charles regards the letters to the churches as having been written 'at a much earlier date than the Book as a whole
So much then for the situation in Asia Minor presupposed in the
But what of the rest of the book?
For there clearly Christians have
already suffered harrowing persecution, and emperor-worship is at the heart of
Are we not here in the presence of something much later?
consider these two issues, of persecution and the cult, in turn.
One thing of which we may be
certain is that the Apocalypse,
unless the product of a perfervid and psychotic imagination,
written out of an intense experience of the Christian suffering at the hands of
the imperial authorities,
represented by the 'beast' of Babylon.
persecution has already taken place and cries aloud for vengeance is an
inescapable inference from such texts as 6.9f.; 16.6; 17.6; 18.20,24; iQ.2; and
They presuppose that the blood of apostles and prophets and countless
including some 'who had been beheaded for the sake of God's word
and their testimony to Jesus',
had saturated the streets of the capital itself.
This of course is not the language of factual reporting;
yet if something quite
traumatic had not already occurred in Rome which was psychologically
still very vivid,
the vindictive reaction, portraying a blood-bath of universal
proportions (14.20), is scarcely credible.
The sole question is what terrible
events are here being evoked.
The impact of the Neronian terror, already cited from Tacitus and Clement, immediately comes to mind, and one is tempted to ask what further need we have of witnesses. Indeed Zahn, who holds that the book comes from thirty years later, still believes that 'the author refers to the Roman martyrs of the time of Nero, and especially to Peter and Paul'. But most of those who have argued for a Domitianic date take the reference to be to the persecution under that emperor. This is especially true of Sir William Ramsay, who painted a gruesome picture of what he called 'the Flavian persecution'. This, as he depicted it, was
not a temporary flaming forth of cruelty: it was a steady uniform application of a deliberately chosen and unvarying policy, a policy arrived at after careful consideration, and settled for the permanent future conduct of the entire administration. It was to be independent of circumstances and the inclination of individuals. The Christians were to be annihilated, as the Druids had been.
[In his earlier and more sober account in The Church in the Roman Empire, 277, he asks, 'How then is it that the Christians are silent about this continuous persecution ?' He adduces I Peter, which he dated, as we saw, c. 75-80, as evidence for this period, since he believed in 'a practically continuous proscription of Christians from 64 onwards'; but his a priori approach is disclosed in the revealing comment:
The persecution of Domitian burned itself ineradicably into the memory of history; it may be doubted by the critic, but not by the historian. ... So strong and early a tradition as that which constitutes Domitian the second great persecutor cannot be discredited without wrecking the foundations of ancient history. Those who discredit it must, to be consistent, resolve to dismiss nine-tenths of what appears in books as ancient history, including most that is interesting and valuable (259).]
The primary sources
According to Eusebius,
Domitian was the second after Nero to stir up persecution against
and he quotes Melito of Sardis to the same effect.
while Eusebius speaks of the death and banishment of 'no small number of
well-born and distinguished men at Rome',
he does not mention the death of a single Christian.
He records that 'Flavia Domitilla, the
daughter of a sister of Flavius Clemens,
who was one of the consuls of Rome at that time, was committed by way of punishment to the island of Pontia because of her testimony for Christ.' He also says that the descendants of Jude, on the ground that they were of the family of David, were brought before the Emperor; but he 'in no way condemned them, but despised them as men of no account, let them go free, and by an injunction caused the persecution against the church to cease'.
The facts of the case of Domitilla and
Clemens are by no means clear. Cf. also P. Prigent, 'Au
temps de 1'Apocalypse: I. Domitien', RHPR 54, 1974,455-83 (especially 470-4).]
Domitilla was probably a Christian,
Clemens possibly a sympathizer.
But there is now widespread agreement among historians
while Domitian may indeed have had an axe to grind against 'atheism' and
[Dio Cassius, Hist. 67.14.2. Yet Edmundson rightly says, The Church in Rome, 222 (cf. 221-37): 'The origin of the persecution under Domitian was not so much religious as fiscal.' In a search for new sources of income he insisted on a stricter exaction of the didrachma tax not merely from practising Jews but from all who lived in the Jewish manner (including among them no doubt converts to Christian-ity as well as 'God-fearers'). Cf. E. M. Smallwood, 'Domitian's Attitude toward the Jews and Judaism', Classical Philology 51, 1956, 1-13.] his action against prominent individuals in Rome was motivated by reasons of state rather than by any odium against the church. In Reicke's words ,
Domitian's purpose was domination of the Roman aristocracy, not an attack upon the Christian faith.
In fact recent studies have been strongly in the direction of showing that 'the evidence for a widespread Christian persecution under Domitian is late [and] probably exaggerated'.In his later book Henderson concludes:
All that is left as authority for the 'squall of persecution' under the Flavian Emperor is too remote to be of value. ... Let who will credit the talk of a general persecution of Christianity under Domitian.
It is not in fact till Orosius, a Christian
historian of the fifth century, that we hear tell of 'the cruellest
persecution throughout the whole world'.
Tertullian is far more restrained:
Domitian also with a share of Nero's cruelty had tried on one occasion to do the same as Nero. But being, as I imagine, possessed of some intelligence, he very soon ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished.
When this limited and selective purge, in which no Christian was for certain put to death, is compared with the massacre of Christians under Nero in what two early and entirely independent witnesses speak of as 'immense multitudes',it is astonishing that commentators should have been led by Irenaeus, who himself does not even mention a persecution, to prefer a Domitianic context for the book of Revelation.
But, of course, it is not simply the state
but the relation of Christians to the imperial
religion that has led to this preference.
Here again we may
start with Tertullian.
Earlier in the same passage of his Apology he refers pagans to
their own records ('commentaries vestros') for the fact that Nero was the first
to attack Christianity at Rome 'with the utmost ferocity of the imperial
Elsewhere, in a discussion concerned to show that from an early date Christianity was no obscure provincial sect but attracted the attention of the imperial authorities, he makes the point that the sole decree of Nero ('institutum Neronianum') not rescinded on his death was one against Christians. A. Schneider, Le premier lime ad Nationes de Tertullien, Neuchatel 1968, 171-3; also P. Prigent, 'Au temps de 1'Apocalypse: III. Pourquoi les persecutions?'. RHPR 55, 1975, 353f.; he agrees in concluding that the passage, while not in itself sufficient to establish such an 'institutum', must strengthen any other indication.] The only other reference to any such legal act occurs in the passage of Sulpicius Severus which we have already had occasion to quote:
Thus a beginning was made of violent persecution of Christians. Afterwards laws were enacted and the religion was forbidden. Edicts were publicly published : 'No one must profess Christianity'.
This evidence is otherwise unsupported and has generally been treated with scepticism.Speaking of Tertullian's 'institutum Neronianum', Sherwin-White says, 'Though this theory might explain persecution at Rome it fails to explain it in the provinces.' But then it is not required to explain it in the provinces. The only hint in Revelation of any such executive decree is in 'Babylon' itself, and it is difficult to believe that something of the kind does not lie behind the language of 13.14-17. There, speaking of the second, subordinate beast, the seer says:
It... made them erect an image in honour of the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived. It was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that it could speak, and could cause all who would not worship the image to be put to death. Moreover, it caused everyone, great and small, rich and poor, slave and free, to be branded with a mark on his right hand or forehead, and no one was allowed to buy or sell unless he bore this beast's mark, either name or number.
He then goes on to supply the reader with the clue to the identity of the beast 'that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived':
Here is the key; and anyone who has intelligence may work out the number of the beast. The number represents a man's name, and the numerical value of its letters is six hundred and sixty-six (13.18).
Though there can be no final certainty, far the most widely accepted solution to the conundrum is that the figure represents the sum of the letters in Hebrew (or Aramaic) (the language evidently in which this barbarous Graecist thought) of the name 'Neron Caesar'.The reference to Nero, who killed himself by his own sword, is further confirmed by the fact (strangely ignored by the commentators) that Suetonius cites a parallel puzzle based on the aggregate of the letters in Greek (1005), as current in Nero's own lifetime:
Count the numerical values
Of the letters in Nero's name, And in 'murdered his own mother': You will find that their sum is the same.
This strongly suggests that Rev.13.18 is the Christian version of a familiar game. Ἰησοῦς is given in contrast as 888. These parallels must count against the argument of Reicke, 'Diejudische Apocalyptic und die johanneische Tiervision', RSR 60, 1972, ' 73-92 (especially 189-91), that the solution lies not in gematria (the numerical value of the letters) but in the properties of the 'triangular' number 666 (= 1 + 2 + 3 ... 36 = 6 x 6). But the pinning of this mysterious number of evil on to Nero (with which Reicke agrees) can only be achieved by showing that it is also the sum of the letters of his name.]
Further, for the naming of Nero as 'the beast' there is the interesting parallel, quoted by Edmundson,from Philostratus' Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius is represented as saying on his arrival in Rome at this time:
In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs. However, they say it is a civil beast, and inhabits the midst of cities; but to this extent it is more savage than the beasts of mountain and forest, that whereas lions and panthers can some-times by flattery be tamed and change their disposition, stroking and petting this beast does but instigate it to surpass itself in ferocity and devour at large. And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mothers, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.
Yet, though few doubt that the primary reference of 'the beast' in Revelation is to Nero, there is still a reluctance to date from his time the decree to worship the emperor or his statue (Rev. 13.4, 12,15; 14.9-11; 15.2; 16.2; 19-20; 20.4). The growth of the imperial cultus is again something which it is almost impossible to date with confidence. The first hard evidence that this was required of Christians is not indeed until the reign of Trajan; but by then it is treated as a stock test of loyalty. As Pliny puts it in his afore-mentioned letter to the Emperor,
At my dictation they invoked the gods and did reverence with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose along with the statues of the gods.
In some form however the claim to divine honours and
the setting up of the emperor's statue in provincial temples goes back as far
Caligula indeed was actually threatening in 40 to have his image
imposed upon the temple at Jerusalem -
a blasphemy averted only by his timely
According to Tacitus,
[NT Era, 241, referring to G. Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Romer, Munich 21912, 82. Dio Cassius stresses what a very different matter this was from the same practice in the provinces (Hist. 5 1.8f.). He also describes Nero as being addressed as divine (Hist. 62. s.2).] It is certainly true that Domitian ordered himself to be called 'our Lord and our God' (dominus ac deus noster). Cf. L. Cerfaux and J. Tondriau, Le culte des souverains dans la civilisation greco-romaine, Tournai 1957, 355-7, for other references.] 'But', as Bruce salutarily reminds us, 'there is no record that this precipitated a clash between him and the Christians.' 11, ὁ κύριος καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν, has been seen as the Christian 'answer' to it. But 'the Lord our God' is a title already so deeply rooted in the Old Testament that nothing can be built on this.]
The book of Revelation would fit into what we know of his reign. But the dogmatism of so many commentators
that such developments could not have occurred till then is misplaced (and unargued). Peake sticks to the facts when he says,
'It is possible that the demand for some act of worship of the emperor was introduced in. Domitian's reign as a test for the detection of Christians.'
Beyond that we
The purple passages in which E. Stauffer
The same applies, as we have said, to Ramsay's account of 'The Flavian Persecution in the Province of Asia as depicted in the Apocalypse', Letters to the Seven Churches, ch.9. He is candid enough to admit that most of the statements derived from the Apocalypse are 'entirely uncorroborated: no even indirect evidence supports them. . . . We arc reduced to mere general presumptions and estimate of probabilities. . . . This is the one contemporary account that has been preserved of the Flavian procedure' (99). If that is not contemporary, we have nothing.]
They are marked by turns of phrase which constantly slur the evidence and at points force and distort it. When a great scholar is driven to such lengths one may suspect that his case is weak. He has his own elaborate interpretation of the cipher 666 as referring to Domitian,
but offers no explanation of how he can possibly be the 'sixth king' who 'is now reigning' (Rev.17.10). All one can say is that while the evidence from the imperial cultus does not rule out a Domitianic dating, it does not establish it either.
[So Guthrie, NTI, 9501. Prigent in his important survey of the imperial cult in Asia Minor, RHPR 55, 215-35, while himself believing that the Apocalypse comes from the reign of Domitian, argues that this emperor introduced at this point nothing distinctive (221). In his subsequent article on the causes of persecution (RHPR 55, 341-63, especially 357-62) he plays down the blasphemous significance of the title 'Kyrios Kaisar' and never even mentions Domitian's claim to that of 'dominus ac deus noster'.] The language of compulsory emperor-worship throughout the world on pain of death is in any case not meant to be taken literally. The role of the seer is to descry, not to describe. What he sees in his vision no more happened in the time of Domitian than in the time of Nero: he is projecting upon the end - the era of Nero redivivus - the inevitable outcome of a totalitarian tyranny.
This is perhaps the point to mention a tiny piece of evidence that Moffattgoes so far as to call a 'water-mark of the Domitianic period'. In Rev. 6.6 a voice is heard saying,
A whole day's wage [literally, a denarius] for a measure of flour, a whole day's wage for three measures of barley-meal. But spare the olive and the vine.
'The immunity of wine', he says, 'may be a local allusion to Domitian's futile attempt (in ad 92) to check the cultivation of the vine in the Ionian provinces.' One is bound to confess that it does not immediately sound like it, and both Beckwith and Charles, though it suits their dating, reject it. The allusion is evidently to some situation of acute cereal shortage, and if one wants one that fits one could just as well look to the account which Josephus gives of the final stages of the siege of Jerusalem:
'Many clandestinely bartered their possessions for a single measure - of wheat, if they were rich, or barley, if they were poor';
and later he tellsof the sacred wine and oil being distributed and drunk. Almost certainly there is no specific reference to these events. But it does raise the question of what relation, if any, the Apocalypse bears to the situation obtaining at this time at the other end of the empire, in Jerusalem. And to this we may turn before coming back to the crucial passage for its dating which speaks of the sequence of Roman emperors in ch.17. In 11.1f. the seer is told:
Go and measure the temple of God, the altar, and the number of the worshippers. But have nothing to do with the outer court of the temple; do not measure that; for it has been given over to the Gentiles, and they will trample the Holy City underfoot for forty-two months.
It is clear from what follows that this is
the old temple of the earthly city.
The picture of its being trampled underfoot
is taken, like so much else in this book, from the Old Testament (Dan.8.10-14; Zech.12.3 [LXX]; Isa.63.18; Ps.79.1) - as, we have argued,
it is in Luke 21.24. W. Bowman, IDB IV, 61.
Yet here above all there is no firm case for literary dependence, only for common tradition. Cf. L. A. Vos, The Synoptic Traditions in the Apocalypse, Kampen 1965; and Guthrie, Jm,956.] The period of forty-two months, or 1260 days, or three and a half years, is, of course, a stock time for the reign of evil, derived again from Daniel (7.25; 12.7,11f), and is not to be taken as prediction before or after the event. Yet both here and in 12.6 and 14 (where for the same period the woman, the church or true Israel who gives birth to the Messiah, flees into the wilds to 'a place prepared for her by God' to be sustained out of the reach of the serpent), it looks as if the reference is to the flight from Jerusalem enjoined in the synoptic apocalypses.
After it is consummated, Beliar the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend, who hath ruled it since it came into being; yea, he will descend from his firmament in the likeness of a man, a lawless king, the slayer of his mother who himself (even) this king will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted. Of the Twelve onewill be delivered into his hands. This ruler in the form of that king will come and there will come with him all the powers of this world and they will hearken unto him in all that he desireth. And at his word the sun will rise at night and he will make the moon to appear at the sixth hourAnd all that he hath desired will he do in the world: he will do and speak like the Belovedand he will say: "I am God and before me there has been none"And all the people in the world will believe in him. And they will sacrifice to him and they will serve him saying: "This is God and beside him there is no other"And the greater number of those who shall have been associated together in order to receive the Beloved, he will turn aside after himAnd there will be the power of his miracles in every city and region. And he will set up his image before him in every cityAnd he shall bear sway three years and seven months and twenty-seven daysAnd many believers and saints having seen him for whom they were hoping, who was crucified, Jesus the Lord Christ, ... and those also who were believers in himof these few in those days will be left as his servants, while they flee from desert to desert awaiting the coming of the Beloved. And after (one thousand) three hundred and thirty-two days the Lord will come with his angels and with the armies of the holy ones from the seventh heaven with the glory of the seventh heaven, and he will drag Beliar into Gehennaand also his armies.
(4.2-14; vv. 15-18 contain further parallels; tr. R. H. Charles, with an introduction by G. H. Box, The Ascension of Isaiah, 1917, 37-9). Charles, The Ascension of Isaiah, 1900, 30f., dated this vision, the so-called 'Testament of Hezekiah' (3.13-4.18), between 88 and 100, on the grounds that it presupposes 'a form of the Antichrist myth' that 'could hardly have arisen earlier than 88 ad' (but this is a very dubious judgment; cf. pp. 245f. below) and the continued survival of believers who had seen Christ in his lifetime (4.13), the last of whom would have died c, 100. But it could well be considerably earlier. It seems to be set during the desert-flight and to be expecting the parousia about three and a half years after the death of Peter. In this case it would be contemporary, on our dating, with the book of Revelation, whose themes it echoes so closely yet without quoting or copying (as one would expect if it were later). Observe the subtle differences in the names (Beliar, the Beloved, Gehenna, none of which are in Revelation) and in the figure for the reign of evil (1332 as opposed to 1290). This last differs also from the 1335 of Dan.12.12; but, rather than being a scribal error, as Charles suggested, 1332 appears to represent the double of 666 (A. Bosse, 'Zur Erklarung der Apocalypse der Asc. Jesaiae', ZNW 10, 1909, 320-3) and thus again to presuppose a common tradition with Rev.13.18 (so Reicke, RSR 60, 188f., who also argues that the two writings are contemporary - though from the reign of Domitian). In contrast with the self-authenticating quality of the Revelation of John, the Ascension is attributed to Isaiah, because he saw 'the vision of Babylon' (Isa.13-14), to which the reader is specifically referred (4.19). If the Ascension really does come from the latter 60s, then it has interesting implications for the dating not only of the Apocalypse but of other parts of the New Testament tradition (especially the Matthean tradition in 3.14 and 18, and that represented by the Pastorals in 3.21-31) which it appears to presuppose, though again without quoting.]
Here however we seem to be at a later stage,
for the temple area is already envisaged as under partial
Yet if Jerusalem had actually been destroyed, it is surely
incredible that the worst judgment upon it should be that in a violent
earthquake (and not by enemy action) 'a tenth of the city fell' (11.13).
Rather, we should expect, as Moule has said, a description of the doom of the city 'where the Lord was crucified' parallel to that other 'great city', also with its allegorical name of evil (cf. 11.8 with 18.10), where 'the blood of the prophets and God's people was found' (18.24). If in the case of Jerusalem 'the smoke other conflagration' (18.9, 18), so vividly described by Josephus, had already been seen, it is astonishing that it receives no mention.
It is indeed generally agreed that this
passage must bespeak a pre-70 situation.
But the solution has been to date the oracle (or
oracles) of ch.11
The resort of commentators to treating anything that will not fit a
Domitianic date as the incorporation of earlier material, though (for reasons
they do not explain) without subsequent modification, is invoked still more
arbitrarily in the passage to which we must now return in ch.17, which is
crucial for any more precise determination of the date of the book.
The central verses are 17.9-11, which supply 'the clue for those who can interpret it' to the vision of the scarlet woman, whose name is Babylon, 'the great city that holds sway over the kings of the earth':
The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They represent also seven kings (or emperors), of whom five have already fallen, one is now reigning, and the other has yet to come; and when he does come he is only to last for a little while. As for the beast that once was alive and is alive no longer, he is an eighth - and yet is one of the seven, and he is going to perdition.
Much ink has been spilt over this passage, but the issues are succinctly summed up in Beckwith's note on the subject.On the assumption that the words have a reference to Roman history, there are two questions to dispose of in advance: (i) With whom does the list of the emperors begin? and (ii) Are the three emperors of 68-9 between Nero and Vespasian (Galba, Otho and Vitellius), who lasted only a few months each, to be included in the count?
The first question is theoretically in doubt but may be settled quite quickly. Though the Roman empire (following upon the republic) is normally regarded as starting with Augustus,Julius Caesar, who claimed the title 'imperator', was emperor de facto and is included in Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars. More importantly, from our point of view, the comparable lists of kings in Orac. Sib.5.12 and II Esd.12.15 (where the second reigns the longest and must be Augustus) begin with Caesar. The same appears to be true of the calculation in the Epistle of Barnabas (4.4), where the tenth king is probably Vespasian, starting from Caesar. But in Revelation it is clear that the first king must be Augustus. Otherwise Nero would be the sixth; and if one thing is certain it is that Nero is dead and not 'now reigning'.
The second question can also, I believe, be resolved with reasonable certainty. The sole ground ever given for excluding the three emperors of 68-9 is that Suetonius is interpreted as speaking disparagingly of them as 'rebellious princes'who constituted a kind of interregnum. Yet Suetonius himself includes them in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, and neither Tacitus nor Josephus has any hesitation in putting them on a par with the rest. More significantly they are included without reservation in the catalogue already referred to in Orac. Sib.5.35 and also in II Esd.12.20f.
requires then', as Beckwith says,
Yet even Charles, though supporting a Domitianic date, is convinced that 'Domitian cannot be identified with Nero redivivus. Not a single phrase descriptive of the latter can be rightly applied to Domitian.'
Moreover the statement, 'one', namely the sixth, 'is now reigning', becomes meaningless mystification - unless it is intended to look like prophecy by a deliberate antedating of the real time of writing.
There have been various ways in which scholars have sought to evade what seems the obvious conclusion.
1. The commonest is to say that the passage was indeed written under Galba (or, by discounting the three, under Vespasian) but has been incorporated in the later work. This is the line taken, for instance, by Peake, who says: '17.10 was probably written under Vespasian and 17.11 under Titus. But there are touches which carry us down to the reign of Domitian'.Why the whole was not properly taken in hand and revised in the light of events (or non-events) no one explains. As Kummel says:
None of these hypotheses can make clear why an author would have added to or inserted into a later writing an early writing of his own, without correcting it, so that by this route we have no access to a solution of the literary problem of Revelation.
2. Another way has been to deny that the count of the emperors starts at the beginning. Thus Strobelbegins with Caligula on the grounds that he was the first to 'fall' (by violent death) and was also the first emperor to begin to reign in the post-messianic, or Christian, age, and, by omitting the three of 68-9, he succeeds in making Domitian the sixth. Reicke, following Allo, argues that Nero is the first (and sum) of the evil emperors, but this yields Domitian as the sixth only by treating Otho and Vitellius as one. And, if the knowledge is so vital to the calculation, why is Nero merely called 'one of the seven' and not the first (or even 'the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega' of evil)? A weakness of this alternative in any form is that all the comparable extra-canonical counts, Jewish or Christian, start at the beginning.
3. The third way, which seems to be gaining in favour with recent
and is at least more straightforward, is to give up the whole business of trying to trace any reference to specific emperors at all and view the whole thing as purely symbolic. The sixth king is then the last but one before the end-time, whoever he may happen to be. But this way of cutting the knot does less than justice to two factors.
The first is that, as virtually all agree, there must be a reference to Nero redivivus in the beast that 'once was alive and is alive no longer but has yet to ascend out of the abyss before going to perdition' - and he is distinctly said to be one of the seven, even though mysteriously he is to return as an eighth. He is linked too with the beast that 'appeared to have received a death-blow, but the mortal wound was healed' (13.3), that 'had been wounded by the sword and yet lived' (13.14). This, as we have seen, almost certainly refers to Nero's death by his own sword, and the cipher which gives his identity is specifically said to represent a man's name (13.18). It therefore becomes difficult to deny that there is some historical reference, and one which was intended to be well understood.
Now we know from both Tacitus
to show that at first it presupposed that he was physically alive and in hiding, later that he was dead but would return from the underworld. It is then argued that Rev.17.8, in saying that he would 'ascend out of the abyss', reveals a late, non-historical form of it, which, supposedly, could not have arisen till the time of Domitian. This surely is to misunderstand the psychology of such expectation. There are some characters in history (Frederick Barbarossa and Hitler are other examples) who have been so feared or hated in their lifetimes that men cannot really believe that they have seen the last of them. At one level of their minds they know that they are dead, yet at another they cannot accept it. In what form these characters will reappear depends not on the passage of time but on the pattern of credulity. It did not take long for Herod to think that Jesus might be John the Baptist risen from the dead, and there is no ground for supposing that Christians, who shared the same ambiguity about whether Nero was really dead (contrast Rev. 13.3,12 and i4with 17.8 and 11), should not very soon have envisaged him emerging from the abyss - which for this author is in any case primarily the abode of evil rather than the place of the departed. So we may conclude not only that the reference to Nero is quite specific but that the expectation of his return may have early historical associations. Indeed there are other passages, to which we shall be coming back, which could reflect the entirely mundane fears that Nero would return to wreak his vengeance on Rome at the head of a Parthian host.
The other factor which a purely symbolic,
non-historical inter-pretation of ch.17 ignores is the parallel already
mentioned with this kind of calculation to be found elsewhere in Jewish and
In Orac.Sib.5.1-50, each of the Roman emperors up to
and including Hadrian
is listed under the thinnest of disguises. There is a similar passage in Ep.Barn. 4.4 where there are ten kings, including three under one, whom Lightfoot, I believe rightly, sees as referring to 'the association with himself by Vespasian of his two sons Titus and Domitian in the exercise of supreme power'. But whatever the interpretation it is evident that some specific allusion is intended. Similarly in II Esd.11 we read of the vision of an eagle with twelve wings and three heads, the interpretation of which follows in 12.10-34. Again, it is palpably clear that particular historical references are intended. The three heads are once more the Flavian dynasty, whose identity this time is not in doubt:
As for the greatest head, which you saw disappear, it signifies one of the kings who will die in his bed, but in great agony.
The two that survived will be destroyed by the sword; one of them will fall by the sword of the other,
who will himself fall by the sword in the last days
The historical perspective of II Esdras is provided by 12.17f.:
As for the voice which you heard speaking from the middle of the eagle's body, and not from its heads, this is what it means: In the midst of the time of that kingdom
great conflicts will arise, which will bring the empire into danger of falling; and yet it will not fall then, but will be restored to its original strength.
Here the troubles following the death of Nero lie well in the past, and Domitian, whose evil reign is vividly depicted in 11.36-12.1, is dead. The central vision of II Esdras 3-14 dates itself (and there is no good reason to doubt it) in the year 100, 'in the thirtieth year after the fall of Jerusalem' (3.1), and the contrast with the perspective of Revelation could hardly be greater. In this book, as in I and II Baruch, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Sibylline Oracles, there are unmistakable allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem.In Revelation there are none at all - in fact just the opposite. And whereas in II Esdras the tally of kings to date is twelve, and in the Epistle of Barnabas ten, in Revelation the sixth is still reigning. Yet we are asked to believe by those who hold to a Domitianic date that Revelation and II Esdras are virtually contemporary.
The contortions to which the commentators have been driven in the interpretation of ch.17 are I am convinced selfimposed by the 'discrepancy', as Beckwith calls it, between the clear statement that the sixth king is now living and what Torrey called their 'stubborn conviction' that the book cannot be earlier than the time of Domitian. Drop this conviction and the evidence falls into place. With it too disappears the need for the aspersions which scholars have not hesitated to rain upon the head of the unfortunate author or his editor. Thus, Perrin says bluntly:
The conditions implied by the book as a whole simply do not fit. Either the author is reusing an earlier text or he does not know his emperors.
Charles excuses him by introducing a particularly crass reviser, whom he describes summarily as:
profoundly stupid and ignorant, a narrow fanatic and celibate, not quite loyal to his trust as editor; an arch-heretic, though, owing to his stupidity, probably an unconscious one.
Yet to be compelled, in the words of a recent commentator,
'to write off as the interpolation of an imbecile anything which is inconsistent with one's own interpretation' scarcely inspires confidence.
So, if we drop the Domitianic hypothesis as itself the cause of confusion, can we come to any positive conclusion with regard to the dating of the book?
hypothesis is to take literally the indication of 17.10 that Galba is on the
throne and to put the book late in 68, some six months after the suicide of
Nero, when, with the public collapse of the structure of authority, the
imminent end of 'Babylon' and all it stood for might plausibly have seemed in
This case is strongly argued by Henderson writing as a
(c) that 17.16f. clearly imply internecine strife and civil war, which had 'an excellent basis of probability in the general outlook at the end of ad 68, but no such basis at all under Vespasian or Domitian'; and (d) that in 18.17f. the account of the burning of Rome, while 'the sea-captains and voyagers, the sailors and those who traded by sea, stood at a distance and cried out as they saw the smoke other conflagration', is based on memories of the fire of Rome some four years earlier.
Before however settling for this date it is
perhaps worth bringing into the picture an ingeniously argued variation upon
In Edmundson's words,
Though but a boy of eighteen his head became filled with ambitious ideas, and he began, says Suetonius, to use his power in so arbitrary a manner as to give proof of what he was to become later. To such an extent was this the case that Dion Cassius tells us that Vespasian wrote to him from Alexandria 'I am much obliged to you, my son, for letting me still be emperor and for not having yet deposed me.'
In the repressive measures required after
the chaos to restore law and order Edmundson suggests that the sort of
inflammatory language used by the Christian prophet John could well have led,
as Tertullian's tradition says, to his narrowly escaping death and to
deportation from Rome, early in 70, through a sentence passed in Domitian's name.
In June Domitian left Rome, and shortly afterwards Vespasian arrived, determined to conduct himself with great moderation and clemency. The following year he took as his colleague in the consulship M. Cocceius Nerva, a lawyer and future emperor. Edmundson goes on:
Nerva held office during the first nundinum of 71ad, and it is permissible to believe that in accordance with tradition one of the sentences quashed by him was that which sent John to Patmos. If by an order of Nerva he were now released, his exile would have lasted almost exactly one year.
So he was banished by Domitian and restored by Nerva, as the tradition says - but in 70-1!
It is undoubtedly clever (though his interpretation of Domitian and Nerva is not original). ἒπεσαν) to imply thatBut how then does Edmundson resolve the crucial calculation in 17.10 of the king now reigning being the sixth? He believes that the key to the understanding of this whole passage is that it deals simply with that period of Roman history which he calls 'the Neronian cycle' - for Nero is not simply one of the seven heads, he is the Beast itself. He takes the words 'five are fallen' (
in each of these five cases there was a violent death. Augustus and Tiberius could not be described as 'fallen', even had their reigns come within the Seer's purview. The five are Claudius, who adopted Nero as his son and heir, Nero himself, Galba, Otho and Vitellius.
'The one who is' signifies the man for the moment invested with imperial power, Domitian, the acting Emperor, who banished the writer. 'The one not yet come' is the real Emperor Vespasian, who had not yet arrived at Rome to take into his hands the reins of government, and 'he will continue only for a short while,' for Nero - 'the beast that was, and is not, who is also an eighth, and is one of the seven' - will quickly return from the East whither he had fled, and once more seat himself on the throne. And 'his end is perdition,' for after his return will immediately follow the great struggle between Christ and Antichrist, when the latter will be overthrown and cast alive into the lake of fire.
The ten horns with their ten diadems of 13.1 he takes (as others have) to be governors of the chief provinces of the empire and he sees in the prediction of 17.12, that 'for one hour' they 'are to share with the beast the exercise of royal authority', the fearful battering of Rome in the events of 68-9:
They together with the beast will come to hate the whore; they will strip her naked and leave her desolate, they will batten on her flesh and burn her to ashes (17.16).
The writer, says Edmundson,
had seen it with his own eyes - the storming and burning of the Capitol by the foreign mercenaries of Vitellius, and the subsequent capture and sacking of the city by the infuriated Flavian army under Mucianus and Antonius Primus on December 19 to 21, 69 ad. At no other time, certainly not in the end of Domitian's reign, was it possible to speak of Rome as fallen, or for the Seer to have raised his triumphant cry 'Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her' (18.20).
To bear out the seer's description of the plight of Babylon in ch.18 he sets the comments of Tacituson the burning of the Capitol and the capture of the city by the Flavian troops:
From the foundation of the city to that hour the Roman republic had felt no calamity so deplorable, so shocking as that....
The city exhibited one entire scene of ferocity and abomination. ... Rivers of blood and heaps of bodies at the same time; and by the side of them harlots, and women that differed not from harlots - all that unbridled passion can suggest in the wantonness of peace - all the enormities that are committed when a city is sacked by its relentless foes - so that you could positively suppose that Rome was at one and the same time frantic with rage and dissolved in sensuality....
Lamentation was heard from every quarter, and Rome was filled with cries of despair and the horrors of a city taken by storm.
Then issued from the palace Vitellius drunk and, knowing the end was come, gorged with a banquet more lavish and luxurious than ever; dragged through the mob and subjected to indignities of every kind, he was finally butchered in the heart of Rome. He had reigned for eight months and five days; and had fate prolonged his life, the very empire, I imagine, would not have sufficed for his lust (4.651f.).]
As he says, it is tempting to believe that 'both writers are describing one and the same unique event'. He further suggests that the scenes of the kings assembled at Armageddon (16.16) and of the hosts of Gog and Magog, countless as the sands of the sea, mustered for battle from the nations of the four quarters of the earth (20.8), are inspired in part at least by the battles earlier in 69 in which the armies of Vitellius and Vespasian contended for the mastery of the empire.
On the one side were troops from Italy,
Spain and Portugal, Gaul, the German Rhine frontier, even from far distant
Batavia and Britain;
on the other, legions from the Danube frontier, and behind
these the armies of Syria, Judaea and Egypt, with auxiliaries from the
furthermost East, from the borderlands of the Euphrates and Tigris.
[For the details, cf. B. W. Henderson, Civil War and Rebellion in the Roman Empire, A.D. 69--70, 1908,21-35; 128-44; and recently P. A. L. Greenhaigh, The Year of the Four Emperors, 1975, and K. Wellesley, The Long Year AD 69, 1975.] The Seer is not describing these battles,
but he saw the medley of troops from every nation under heaven actually fighting in the streets of Rome, and the scenes he witnessed still so freshly imprinted in his mind are vividly reflected in the imagery of his vision.
I have quoted Edmundson at some length
because it is a case that has been almost entirely ignored. It has its weak spots like any other, but a number of his points are impressive. The sack and burning of Rome in 69 is a more convincing parallel than the fire of 64, and the proximity of the foreign troops to the temple area in 11.2 would suit the early months of 70 better even than 68. Above all the turning of the external evidence is clever - if not too clever. Yet to start the count of the emperors with Claudius is strained.
But, whatever the details of the events reflected, the Apocalypse is, I believe, intelligible only if, as Tertullian says, its author had himself been 'a partaker of the sufferings' (1.9) in Rome during and after the Neronian persecution.In comparison with this, the precise dating (late 68 or early 70) is of secondary significance. There is in any case no need to suppose that all his visions, any more than those of the Old Testament prophets, came to him at once. Nevertheless there is, I suggest, much to be said for the hypothesis that in exile the seer was using his imagination, under the influence of scripture and the Spirit, to reflect upon the terrible events of the latter 60s, both in Rome and in Jerusalem, and then dispatching his warning of what could lie ahead of them to those Asian churches whose spiritual state concerned him so intimately. As it turned out, it was Jerusalem that fell in the autumn of 70 and Babylon that survived. The universal martyrdom of the Christian church did not materialize, neither did the shortly promised parousia. He himself was to be released before long, and he could well, as Clement's legend has it, have lived on to a ripe old age organizing the troublesome congregations of Asia Minor. But whether he was the same John of whom these and other stories are told, and what is his connection, if any, with the remaining Johannine writings, must be left to the next chapter.