So where does the comparison we set out in the previous post lead us?
Revelation 17:9 This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.
The comparison of the account in Rev 17:10 with the quoted texts from 4Esr 11f and Sib V raises the question whether the apocalypticist here in Rev 17:10 was at all concerned with the fact that his readers can refer the five “fallen” kings, the sixth who reigns at the time of the writing of the Apk, and the seventh who has not yet taken up the reign but apparently will do so soon and must then reign, to historical persons and assign them to certain emperors. The apparent vagueness in the account in Rev 17:10f suggests that the apocalypticist did not intend the assignment of the seven or eight βασιλείς to specific Roman rulers. (p. 328, translation)
He is not alone. From Aune’s commentary (p. 948):
Some have maintained, I think correctly, that John is not referring to seven specific kings; rather he is using the number seven as an apocalyptic symbol, a view that has become increasingly popular among scholars (Beckwith, 704-8; Kiddle-Ross, 350-51; Lohmeyer, 143; Beasley-Murray, 256-57; Caird, 218-19; Lohse, 95; Guthrie, Introduction, 959; Mounce, 315; Sweet, 257; Harrington, 172; Giblin, 164-65; Talbert, 81). For several reasons, the symbolic rather than the historical approach to interpreting the seven kings is convincing.
(a) Seven, a symbolic number widely used in the ancient world, occurs fifty-three times in Revelation to reflect the divine arrangement and design of history and the cosmos. The enumeration of just seven kings, therefore, suggests the propriety of a symbolic rather than a historical interpretation,
(b) The seven heads of the beast, first interpreted as seven hills and then as seven kings, is based on the archaic mythic tradition of the seven-headed dragon widely known in the ancient world (see Comment on 12:3). Since the author is working with traditional material, this again suggests that precisely seven kings should be interpreted symbolically,
(c) Rome, founded in 753 b.c. according to Varro (several alternate dates are suggested by other ancient authors), was an Etruscan monarchy until the expulsion of the last Etruscan king, Tarquinius Superbus, in 508 b.c. From the perspective of canonical Roman tradition, there were exactly seven kings in all: Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Marcus, Tarquinus Priscus, Servius Tullius (the only king of Latin origin), and Tarquinius Superbus (though it is true that Lars Porsenna, the Etruscan king of Clusium, controlled Rome briefly after the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus [Tacitus Hist. 3.72; Pliny Hist. nat. 34.139]). While there were probably more than seven historical kings (Momigliano, CAH7/2:96), Roman and Etruscan historians identified minor figures with major ones to maintain the canonical number. The number seven was referred to frequently in that connection (Appian Bell. civ. praef. 14; bk. 1, frag. 2; a magical prayer in Demotic found in PDM XIV.299 is addressed to the seven kings, though what this means is impossible to say). There is also occasional reference to the seven archons who rule the seven planetary spheres (the sun, the moon, and five planets) as kings (Ap.John II/1 11.4-6).
Beckwith (704-708): Continue reading “The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 3”