The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 4

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by Neil Godfrey

From a comment:

That argument would make good sense if it were not for one major objection I see: in this reconstruction in which the author actually has knowledge of #7 and #8, #7 reigns only “for a short time”. But the emperor before Hadrian as #8 was Trajan who would be #7. But Trajan ruled for 19 years, hardly a “short time”.

In other words, would an author of Revelation writing of Hadrian as #8, in the time of Hadrian, write an ex eventu prophecy that Hadrian’s immediate predecessor, Trajan, would only reign “a short time”?

Why the “short time”?

The Hadrian theory is interesting and appealing on other grounds that you have named, but the explanation of the 8 heads has this objection that I see.

W’s discussion of the “short time”, both machine translation and original German followed by a comment of my own:

In Rev 17:9 the apocalyptist has used the verb πίπτειν to characterize the death of the first five βασιλείς as a violent one,16 in Rev 17:10 he describes the period of the reign of the seventh βασιλεύς as όλίγον [=a little while]. From these observations, however, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the historical classification of the seven or eight βασιλείς. First, the fact that approximately all Roman emperors either actually or rumoredly suffered a violent death,17 relativizes the historical consequences derivable from the use of the verb πίπτειν.18 Moreover, the relative time όλίγον is by no means restrictable in the sense that a period of two or three years must be meant here.19 Compared to the reign of Augustus, which was about 41 years,20 a period of 15 or 20 years can also represent a period of time that can be named with the time όλίγον.21 Also the assumption that the apocalyptist, despite the announcement that the end of time is near in Rev 17:10f, did not let this end occur already with the seventh, but only with the eighth βασιλεύς, offers no clue for a temporal-historical classification, e.g. to the effect that the apocalyptist was forced to this construction because at the time of the writing of the Apk this seventh βασιλεύς reigned as co-regent together with the sixth, so that he could not pass over this seventh.22 The construction of the seven βασιλείς, supplemented by the eighth, the first θηρίον, corresponds rather precisely to the ductus of the account of Rev 13: here, too, the first θηρίον, equipped with κεφαλαί ἑπτά, represents an emperor supplementing the series of the seven, that is, the eighth Roman emperor.23 Thus, the rendering Rev 17:10f can be explained unconstrainedly as a reception of the remarks of Rev 13.

16 Cf. on this, for example, Lohmeyer, Apk, 143: “[…] and έπεσαν as ‘they died’ is linguistically and factually impossible”, and U. B. Müller, Apk, 294 with reference to Apk 14,8; 16,19; 18,2. B. Müller, Apk, 294 with reference to Apk 14,8; 16,19; 18,2. U.a. Strobel, Abfassung, 439f draws from this the conclusion that these five βασιλείς must be Roman emperors who died violent deaths, which, however, is at least historically inaccurate in the case of Vespasian and Titus, who are also subsumed under these five principes. Cf. also Aune, Apk III, 949: “’To fall’ is commonly used in the euphemistic metaphorical sense of a person’s violent death, usually in war, in both Israelite-Jewish and Greek literature” (cf. also numerous references there). 

17 Cf. Aune, Apk III, 949: “Many of the Roman emperors died violent deaths: Julius Caesar was assassinated by being stabbed twenty-three times […] Caligula was stabbed repeatedly with swords […] Claudius was poisoned [… ] Nero committed suicide […] Galba was stabbed to death by many using swords, decapitated, and his corpse mutilated […] Otho commit ted suicide with a dagger […] Vitellius was beaten to death […] and Domitian was assassinated with a dagger”. Cf. in addition Strobel, Abfassung, 439: “Vespasian […] Died of a fever. Later the rumour spread that he had been poisoned by Titus. […] Titus […] Died of a fever. The suddenness of his death also lends credence to the rumour that he was forcibly removed”. Accordingly, until 96 AD, only the deaths of Augustus and Tiberius cannot be characterised with the verb πίπτειν.

18 Cf. Günther, Nah- und Enderwartungshorizont, 137: “Thus, in my opinion, the meaning of έπεσαν in the narrower sense does not carry too much weight with regard to the violent end of the five”. 

19 Giesen, Apk, 382, who uses this time as an argument for identifying the seventh βασιλεύς with the person of the emperor Titus, is different: “[…] and the seventh is Titus, who reigned only briefly, i.e. for two years”, and Wellhausen, Analyse, 28: “Titus is envisaged as the seventh and last; vengeance will befall him, the destroyer of Jerusalem, after a short reign”. 

20 According to Hanslik, Art. Augustus, in: KP 1, 744-754, Augustus held the position of princeps from 27 B.C. until his death in 14 A.D. 

21 This also applies in view of the similar or parallel time references Apk 6,11; 12,12. 

22 Cf. Kraft, Apk, 22If: “If the seer lives in the last time and believes to have only a little time before him, and if he is free in his way of counting (in the beginning and in the opposite of his counting) – only that it must be Roman emperors what he counts – what then prompted the seer to assume for his presence not the time of the seventh, but that of the sixth? He wants to comfort and tell us that all this will not last much longer, so why does he put the seventh emperor between his time and the end? He would have been at liberty to say: six have fallen, now is the seventh, and then comes the end – that is to say, he could and should have counted in this way, if he had not been prevented from doing so by a still unnamed circumstance. He is forced to reckon with the reign of the seventh, because he already knows him, because there is no longer any doubt about the seventh, even though the sixth still reigns at this moment. – From this it follows that this prophecy can only have been written in a short period of time, counting by months, namely at the time of Nerva between Trajan’s admission to the co-regency and Nerva’s death. That is, between summer 97 and spring 98″. This consideration of Kraft’s still does not explain why the apocalyptist does not have the end of time begin with the seventh, but with the eighth βασιλεύς. The fact of a co-regnancy can hardly be an obstacle here.

23 Cf. on this in detail above 153ff. [covered in posts of 6th May and 7th May]

The original, pp 326-327:

In Apk 17,9 hat der Apokalyptiker das Verbum πίπτειν verwendet, um den Tod der ersten fünf βασιλείς als einen gewaltsamen zu charakterisieren,16 in Apk 17,10 beschreibt er den Zeitraum der Herrschaft des siebten βασιλεύς als όλίγον. Aus diesen Beobachtungen lassen sich aber kaum Schlüsse auf die historische Einordnung der sieben bzw. acht βασιλείς ziehen. Zunächst relativiert die Tatsache, daß annähernd alle römischen Kaiser entweder tatsächlich oder aber gerüchteweise einen gewaltsamen Tod erlitten haben,17 die aus der Verwendung des Verbums πίπτειν ableitbaren historischen Konsequenzen.18 Darüber hinaus ist die relative Zeitangabe όλίγον keinesfalls in dem Sinne eingrenzbar, daß hier ein Zeitraum von zwei oder drei Jahren gemeint sein muß.19 Gegenüber der Regierungszeit des Augustus, die ca. 41 Jahre betrug,20 kann auch ein Zeitraum von 15 oder 20 Jahren eine mit der Zeitangabe όλίγον benennbare Zeitdauer darstellen.21 Auch die Annahme, daß der Apokalyptiker trotz der Ansage, daß das Ende der Zeit nahe ist, in Apk 17,1 Of dieses Ende nicht bereits mit dem siebten, sondern erst mit dem achten βασιλεύς eintreten ließ, bietet keinen Anhaltspunkt fur eine zeitgeschichtliche Einordnung, etwa dahingehend, daß der Apokalyptiker zur dieser Konstruktion gezwungen wurde, weil zur Zeit der Abfassung der Apk dieser siebte βασιλεύς als Mitregent gemeinsam mit dem sechsten herrschte, so daß er diesen siebten nicht übergehen konnte.22 Die Konstruktion der sieben βασιλείς, ergänzt durch den achten, das erste θηρίον, entspricht vielmehr präzise dem Duktus der Darstellung von Apk 13: Auch hier stellt das erste θηρίον, ausgerüstet mit κεφαλαί ἑπτά, einen die Reihe der sieben ergänzenden, also den achten römischen Kaiser dar.23 Somit läßt sich die Darstellung Apk 17,1 Of zwanglos als Aufnahme der Ausführungen von Apk 13 erklären.

16 Vgl. hierzu etwa Lohmeyer, Apk, 143: „[…] und έπεσαν als ,sie starben’ zu fassen, ist sprachlich und sachlich unmöglich“, und U.B. Müller, Apk, 294 mit Verweis auf Apk 14,8; 16,19; 18,2. U.a. Strobel, Abfassung, 439f zieht daraus den Schluß, daß es sich bei diesen fünf βασιλείς um römische Kaiser handeln muß, die gewaltsam zu Tode gekommen sind, was allerdings bei den unter diesen fünf principes ebenfalls subsumierten Vespasian und Titus zumindest historisch nicht zutreffend ist. Vgl. hierzu auch Aune, Apk III, 949: ,„To fall’ is commonly used in the euphemistic metaphorical sense of a person’s violent death, usually in war, in both Israelite-Jewish and Greek literature“ (vgl. dort auch zahlreiche Belege).

17 Vgl. hierzu Aune, Apk III, 949: „Many of the Roman emperors died violent deaths: Julius Caesar was assassinated by being stabbed twenty-three times […] Caligula was stabbed repeatedly with swords […] Claudius was poisoned […] Nero committed suicide […] Galba was stabbed to death by many using swords, decapitated, and his corpse mutilated […] Otho committed suicide with a dagger […] Vitellius was beaten to death […] and Domitian was assassinated with a dagger“. Vgl. ergänzend dazu Strobel, Abfassung, 439: „Vespasian […] Gestorben an einer Fieberkrankheit. Später verbreitete sich das Gerücht von einer Vergiftung durch Titus. […] Titus […] Gestorben an einer Fieberkrankheit. Die Plötzlichkeit seines Todes gibt gleichfalls dem Gerüchte Nahrung, er sei gewaltsam beseitigt worden“. Demzufolge können bis 96 n.Chr. nur die Tode des Augustus und des Tiberius nicht mit dem Verbum πίπτειν charakterisiert werden.

18 Vgl. Günther, Nah- und Enderwartungshorizont, 137: „So kommt denn m.E. der Bedeutung von έπεσαν im engeren Sinne auf das gewaltsame Ende der fünf kein allzu großes Gewicht zu“.

19 Anders hier Giesen, Apk, 382, der diese Zeitangabe als Argument dafür anftihrt, den siebten βασιλεύς mit der Person des Kaisers Titus zu identifizieren: „[…] und der siebte der nur kurz, d.h. zwei Jahre lang, regierende Titus“, und Wellhausen, Analyse, 28: „Titus ist als siebenter und letzter in Aussicht genommen; ihn, den Zerstörer Jerusalems, wird die Rache ereilen nach kurzer Regierung“.

20 Nach Hanslik, Art. Augustus, in: KP 1, 744-754 bekleidete Augustus die Stellung des princeps von 27 v.Chr. bis zu seinem Tod 14 n.Chr.

21 Dies gilt auch im Blick auf die ähnlichen bzw. parallelen Zeitangaben Apk 6,11; 12,12.

22 Vgl. hierzu etwa Kraft, Apk, 22If: „Wenn der Seher in der letzten Zeit lebt und nur wenig Zeit vor sich zu haben glaubt, und wenn er in seiner Zählweise (im Anfangspunkt und im Gegenstand seiner Zählung) frei ist – nur daß es römische Kaiser sein müssen, was er zählt – was veranlaßte dann den Seher, für seine Gegenwart nicht die Zeit des Siebten, sondern die des Sechsten anzunehmen? Er will doch trösten und mitteilen, daß das alles nicht mehr lang dauern wird – warum schiebt er dann noch den siebten Kaiser zwischen seine Zeit und das Ende? Es hätte ihm frei gestanden zu sagen: sechs sind gefallen, jetzt ist der Siebte, und dann kommt das Ende – das heißt: so hätte er zählen können und müssen, wenn ihn nicht ein noch ungenannter Umstand daran gehindert hätte. Er ist gezwungen, mit der Regierung des Siebten zu rechnen, weil er ihn bereits kennt, weil am Siebten, wiewohl in diesem Augenblick noch der Sechste regiert, nicht mehr zu zweifeln ist. – Daraus ergibt sich: nur in einer kurzen, nach Monaten zählenden Zeitspanne kann diese Weissagung geschrieben sein, nämlich zur Zeit Nervas zwischen der Aufnahme Trajans in die Mitregentschaft und Nervas Tod. D.h. zwischen Sommer 97 und Frühling 98“. Diese Überlegung Krafts erklärt immer noch nicht, warum der Apokalyptiker das Ende der Zeit nicht mit dem siebten, sondern mit dem achten βασιλεύς beginnen läßt. Das Faktum einer Mitregentschaft kann doch hier kaum hinderlich sein.

23 Vgl. hierzu ausführlich oben 153ff.


Indeed, a reign from 98 to 117 does not seem like a “short time” for a Roman emperor. As I thought about this detail I tried to imagine myself writing at the time of Hadrian, “the eighth”, and looking back to “the sixth” emperor. Imagine an author and audience believing they are living in the last days, that the time of the end is imminent, and looking back on the times that have brought them to their present crisis. Imagine reading a prophecy dating itself to two emperors prior. Is it plausible to imagine that the intermediate emperor, the seventh, had reigned for what felt like “a short while” now in the past? Might this seem even more plausible when we recall that Trajan’s latter years were event-packed with the drama of Jewish rebellions in Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia and Trajan’s violent responses? In other words, in favour of W’s interpretation of “a short while” is it permissible to imagine the author and readers, anticipating the last day of judgment, subjectively sensing that time was moving fast, that Trajan’s violent suppression of the Jews was “a short while” preceding the “present time of the end”?

It’s a thought, yes?

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32 thoughts on “The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 4”

  1. I don’t understand all this talk of death of emperors. As I said before, Revelation is a Jewish religious document, not a Roman history. Evidence – “8th – “belongs to the seven, and it goes to perdition”. I assume perdition is more a religious comment, not a historic comment about an actual death.

      1. Considering that the main subject at hand, I think, is the destruction of Jerusalem, therefore “destruction” is a fitting word for Titus. Not death – everyone dies.

    1. Yet the author addresses believers in the province of Asia. So his interest does extend beyond Palestine. And given that the Romans massacred Jews in 70 CE, and again in the early second century across the eastern sector of the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, and again in the 130s in Palestine…. would not it be reasonable to suspect that the author of Revelation had an interest in seeing the “perdition” of all that was connected with the authority and power of Rome?

      1. Have to ask why the interest in the temple? Measuring a new temple? I think that might imply a more Jewish than Christian author. Might imply close to 70+AD, when Jews considered Christians as just another one of their sects. If a late date, I doubt if a Christian author would be that interested in measuring for a temple.
        Plus, have to ask which was the more impactful event for a more Jewish than Christian author? Jerusalem being destroyed, or Christians being killed in 100+AD? But this will never be settle. Just have to consider what might be more likely.

        1. Hi Gary,

          After 70 there were still hopes among the Jews that the temple would be rebuilt, as we see in the Epistle of Barnabas and coins of Bar Kochba.

          As for Christianity at the time, or most certainly the Christianity of the author of Revelation, being understood as a Jewish “sect”, I don’t think we have any reason to doubt that was the case.

          1. Neil – Jewish Sects – last comment for me, since I’m lacking any evidence other than TV programs…I remember travel programs describing current Israel containing conservative Jewish groups that follow particular Rabbi’s. To the point that their followers idolize the Rabbi’s and wear specific clothes that identify them as followers. Even if the Rabbi is dead. So it’s not hard to think Jesus followers were in the same boat pre-70AD. Only question is why did they become a unique religion? The 70AD event, the influence of Paul converting gentiles, the influence of Gnostics/Greek philosophy (later purged), Qumran restructured followers, or ? With the temple destroyed, the Sadducees didn’t have anything to do. Maybe they morphed? Beats me.

            1. Hi Gary. As for the relevance of Jewish groups following certain rabbis today and even within historical memory, I think we should look for evidence that such customs really were practised back in the times of the Second Temple era and a century or two later. People and customs change. Later changes are declared to be revivals of ancient historical practices even though they are not. We see instance of that sort of thing all the time. Rabbinic Judaism as we understand it really did not begin to emerge until from the third century at the earliest and it was very different from the multiple “Judaisms” of the earlier era.

  2. Just adding some quick thoughts…
    I was struck by a recent post on Bart Ehrman’s blog where he draws attention to James Tabor’s idea that Revelation is a Jewish text that was revised by Christians (search for “Is the Book of Revelation a Revised Version of a Non-Christian Apocalypse? Guest Post by James Tabor” on Bart Ehrman’s blog).

    So, if I take a starting point that the original perspective was Jewish, the original Revelation text was written as a purported vision. It is about what will happen to Jerusalem in 70, and subsequent Messianic expectations, and the fate of Rome (even though I think the text was written after the fall of Jerusalem). I think it makes sense to look at the “7 Kings” then as:
    1. having direct impact on the recent circumstances in Judea
    2. having had violent deaths.

    To me, that means starting at Caligula, given his intersection in history with Philo and the scandal of the statue in the Temple of Jerusalem.

    My understanding of Tiberius’ place, at least in later Christian thought, is that he is viewed more benignly. He died at 77, and did not want to be viewed as a god.

    So how about:
    1. Caligula (murdered)
    2. Claudius (probably poisoned)
    3. Nero (suicide)
    4. Galba (murdered)
    5. Otho (suicide)
    6. Vitellius (murdered)
    7. Vespasian (died of natural causes)
    8. Titus (died of natural causes)

    If the idea is to place a prophecy before the siege and fall of Jerusalem (but actually knowing the outcome), then the timing of the prophecy would be just before 70 AD, which puts the prophecy in the timeframe of Vitellius, who ruled for about 8 months in 69.

    Vespasian was still in the Middle East when he became emperor, so there is a sense of a brief period where he remains close to Judea (after having had such a big impact during the Jewish revolt).

    That leaves King #8 as Titus, who presided over the destruction of Jerusalem, and so he may symbolize the “beast” that needs to be overcome. I’ve also wondered about the connection with Berenice, who was with him in Rome for a time. Perhaps she is a model for the woman who was “drunk with the blood of the saints”. The woman and the beast are connected as the angel said:
    “I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her…”.

    1. I will be very interested in reading the rest of the case for Revelation having been written under Hadrian. But at present I still lean towards Thomas’ interpretation. It seems to me that the seventh king who “reigns for a short time” is best taken to one of the emperors of 69 CE, the year of the three emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius). Vitellius reigned from April to December of 69. Vespasian obtained the support of Mucianus, governor of Syria, and Primus, a general from Pannonia, and was declared emperor by the legions in the east. Before he could arrive at Rome, other generals from the provinces near the Danube also declared their support and marched on Rome. This seems to me to be the historical juncture at which Revelation 17-18 was written, with most of Revelation ex eventu, but a bit of actual (unfilfilled) prophecy. The 10 horns of Rev. 17.12 seem to me to represent the various generals and governors and allies who were backing Vespasian and anticipated receiving rule over (“client”) kingdoms if they succeeded in putting him on the throne. Rev. 17:16-18 excitedly predicted their attack on Rome, and Rev. 18 anticipated the destruction of that city in the civil war. As it so happened, this genuine prophecy failed, since the legions defeated the armies of Vitellius during their march towards Rome, and Vitellius was himself slain. The city of Rome was untouched in the war and Vespasian thus took the throne effectively unopposed. This historical context seems to fit the prophecies rather well and would seemingly date Rev. 17-18 to the end of 69 CE. Revelation 11 then seems to represent an update at the start of 70 CE, when the siege of Jerusalem was begun, but before the fall of the city. Not that I consider this case certain in advance of the alternate model reflecting the time of Hadrian.

      1. With all due respect, according to Wikipedia, there was fierce fighting in Rome by Vitellius’s supporters against Vespasian’s supporters when Vespasian arrived in Rome, and portions of the city were destroyed: ”

        On the entrance of Vespasian’s troops into Rome, Vitellius’ supporters (mostly civilians) organized heavy resistance, resulting in a brutal battle. Entrenched on the city’s buildings, they threw stones, javelins, and tiles on Vespasian’s soldiers who consequently suffered heavy casualties in the urban fighting. Cassius Dio claims that 50,000 people died in the battle for Rome.[20] Large parts of the city were destroyed, including the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.[21] Vitellius was eventually dragged out of a hiding-place (according to Tacitus a door-keeper’s lodge), driven to the fatal Gemonian stairs, and there struck down by Vespasian’s supporters. “Yet I was once your emperor,” were his last words. His body was thrown into the Tiber according to Suetonius; Cassius Dio’s account is that Vitellius was beheaded and his head paraded around Rome, and his wife attended to his burial. His brother and son were also killed.”


        20: Kelly, Benjamin (2007). “Riot Control and Imperial Ideology in the Roman Empire”. Phoenix. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Classical Association of Canada. 61 (1/2): 150–176. JSTOR 20304642 – pages 169, 171.

        21: Varner, Eric (2017). “Nero’s Memory in Flavian Rome”. In Bartsch, Shadi; Freudenberg, Kirik; Littlewood, Cedric (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Nero. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 238–258. ISBN 978-1107669239 – page 250.

        1. Interesting. I stand corrected. Major parts of Rome were burned in the final battle against Vitellius. I drilled down into the sources (Seutonius, Cassius Dio, Vitellius). Cassius Dio was especially eloquent regarding the luxuries imported by merchants into Rome under Vitellius (as also Seutonius), and the blaze of Rome rising like a beacon, resonating with Rev. 18.

          1. I am deeply honoured to have helped you in your thesis’s development – a thesis which I prefer, honestly, over a Hadrianic dating for the text. If I may make another suggestion, maybe the author assumed that Vespasian would be another short-lived usurper who would be overthrown by another army from the provinces army – cf., the Batavian revolt.

    2. Thomas — concerning the count from the time of Caligula, Witulski’s problem with that approach is its failure to account for what looks like a strong emphasis on worship of the beast power. Emperor worship in the time of Vespasian and Titus appears to have been in something of a relative decline, in particular in the province of Asia. Related to that point, there is no evidence for any particular increases in stress on Christians at that time.

      By the way — I don’t know whether you saw it or not, but I posted on the Caligula starting point at https://vridar.org/2022/02/20/dating-revelation-to-the-time-of-domitian-90s-ce/

      1. As an exercise I took Tabor’s idea of removing the Jesus references in Revelation (https://ehrmanblog.org/is-the-book-of-revelation-a-revised-version-of-a-non-christian-apocalypse-guest-post-by-james-tabor/), so as to get to a possible original pure Jewish apocalypse, and play with the possibilities.

        The remaining text, from a purely Jewish point of view, seems to point to the divine powers behind the strength of the Roman empire (the dragon), the emperor cult (the beast, or the genius or daemon), and I think goddess of Rome, Roma (the harlot), and how those celestial forces governing events on earth seemed unstoppable to the Jews. This passage in Revelation seems to be a view back on the outcome of the Jewish revolt: Revelation 13.4: “People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”

        I think the “heads” of the beast are emperors embodying the emperor cult (Wikipedia “Roman imperial cult” has Caligula to Vitellus (6 emperors) all linked to the cult in some ways). The name of the beast would seem to be just the blasphemous name for all emperors who had a living or after death cult– something like “divine Caesar”. The gematria in Greek for Kaisar Theos is 616, for example. Whatever the meaning and actual name intended, this is the “number of a man” as the author insists, but maybe this is a play on words. It may not be about trying to identify a single man. The unutterable blasphemous name is for all applicable emperors, who are in fact only men– not gods. The beast is the daemon behind the imperial cult.

        I think the original Jewish author is writing at a time when a second “beast” was looming– there were ominous signs of the return of the emperor cult in around 80. I think the wounded head is Titus (who was wounded in the siege of Jerusalem), and he was deified by Domitian — at about the same time there were all sorts of portents, such as the major fire in 80 in Rome, a plague, and Vesuvius. Revelation could have been written by a Jewish author sensitized by the torturous Jewish history in the past decades and having ongoing concerns about the blasphemy of the emperor cult and the accompanying angst over taking oaths, etc.

        My guess for the context of the five kings is that Jewish author wants to position his “prophecy” as being given in 69, before the rise of Vespasian and the fall of Jerusalem. Maybe the line “he must remain for only a little while” refers to Vespasian rejecting his cult for most of his reign– until that brief time at his deathbed — “I think I’m becoming a god”. After that there is the 8th king and the second beast, and the looming return of the cult for living and dead emperors — all of which most upsets the author.

        1. Hi Thomas. Why not study your proposals against the contrary arguments — reasons that Witulski disputes them — and see if they stand? (All the posts are found under https://vridar.org/tag/witulski-johannesoffenbarung-und-kaiser-hadrian/ and/or https://vridar.org/tag/book-of-revelation/

          Interesting results can arise when we systematically remove certain references from a text, but then we end up with the text that we want to find and are left with no way of knowing if that was the original text or if we have just found what fits our theory by circular reasoning.

  3. Neil, as I think about this, the one way I can see the 8 heads interpreted, if the starting premise is true that Hadrian is #8, would have Nero as #1 for which separately it has been argued internal to the text, that the “one” of the seven heads who was slain who then returns as #8 in the text, may also be readable or as double-entendre as the “first” of the seven heads. This would give a fitting closure to the Rev scheme: #1 Nero which starts the scheme returns as Hadrian #8 the “returned Nero” at the end of the scheme. This in turn gives a numbering which works naturally up to Trajan as #6 on the assumption that the year of the three emperors is skipped: #1 Nero, #2 Vespasian, #3 Titus, #4 Domitian, #5 Nerva, #6 Trajan. Then Revelation would be written with ex eventu prophecy of Hadrian from the standpoint of the text’s fictitious present in the time of #6, Hadrian’s predecessor, Trajan.

    The only puzzle then becomes locating #7 “for a short time”. This must then be interpreted in terms of phenomenon related to the succession of Trajan to Hadrian. There has been some debate or discussion concerning whether Trajan intended Hadrian to succeed, and that the succession of Hadrian may have been something of a coup. Perhaps some rival expected successor to Trajan is alluded to as Rev’s #7, or perhaps prefect Attianus who helped install Hadrian and then was himself soon dismissed by Hadrian might be #7. I don’t know how that would work exactly. Historically there was no actual emperor in between Trajan and Hadrian, but the peculiarity of having the text’s present set in the time of #6 instead of the one before Hadrian #8, the peculiarity of #7 being foreseen to be only brief, and the fitting numbering of the scheme otherwise–could argue for interpretation of #7, however that interpretation works, at the time of the succession from Trajan to Hadrian. So although there is a remaining uncertainty in unclear understanding of how #7 works in the scheme between Trajan and Hadrian, that is where #7 should be located in some manner of interpretation–IF the argument otherwise stands that Hadrian is #8.

  4. I still think Metzger is right. No prophecy about 70AD. Its written after the fact. The high level of emotion reflects anger at the destruction of Jerusalem. And to quote Metzger, “If, as is likely, Revelation was written after 79AD, when the sudden eruption of Vesuvius completely engulfed the city of Pompeii with molten lava, and destroyed ships in the Gulf of Naples, then John’s readers, from reports they had heard of the catastrophe, would have had no difficulty picturing “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, [being] thrown into the sea” Rev 8:8.” Plus I would assume after 70AD, from a practical matter, such a document would take time to be written, after the anger of 70AD simmered in the author’s head.

  5. I’ll have to read the Ehrman reference given by Thomas…

    Erhman’s ref…

    “In my post titled “The Destruction of Pompeii and the New Testament Book of Revelation,” on the destruction of Pompeii by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE I suggested that one of the authors/editors of the New Testament book of Revelation was reacting to this specific disaster”

  6. Assuming that the original underlying text of Revelation was a Jewish apocalypse (as per Tabor), then its writing just after Vesuvius make sense — the fall of Jerusalem, the emperors up to and through the eruption, and a desired bad fate for Rome, are all covered.

    Vesuvius and Titus as emperor overlap, so it seem like the occasion to write something dire and dark when the destroyer of Jerusalem is now emperor. That keeps Titus as the 8th king and “beast”. If Christians tacked on lines about Jesus and otherwise added or updated the text, then that projects some of Revelation’s aspects to later time periods, and that would certainly cause confusion about who the 7 kings were.

    1. There may be some merit to Tabor’s idea that Revelation was a Jewish apocalypse with Christian interpolations (https://jamestabor.com/can-a-pre-christian-version-of-the-book-of-revelation-be-recovered/); the alternative is that it was a Jewish-Christian apocalypse (which I lean towards). But Tabor’s Vesuvius argument (https://jamestabor.com/the-destruction-of-pompeii-and-the-new-testament-book-of-revelation/) doesn’t have much to it, other than (1) smoke rising from a burning city, and (2) allusions to commerce in the city. But (1) Babylon the Great is clearly Rome in Rev. 17; (2) the agency of its destruction is the ten horns who will “burn her with fire” at Rev. 17:16; (3) Pompeii has no historical record I know of for persecuting Jews and/or Jewish Christians as in Rev. 17:6; 18:24.

      An allusion to Vesuvius has similarly been proposed for Rev. 8:8-9, “Something like a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea and a third part of the sea became blood and died…” But surrounding verses refers to meteors falling from heaven, an image found along with other celestial omens throughout Revelation (as well as the Olivet Prophecy and various OT passages). I just don’t see Vesuvius anywhere in Revelation.

      1. Vesuvius does seem out-of-the-way, given the focus on the cities of Rome and Jerusalem in Revelation.

        There is another candidate event: the fire of 80 in Rome during Titus’ reign– a fire which burned for three days, destroying a lot of public buildings. My understanding is that there was also an accompanying plague.

        Also, didn’t Titus get a near fatal wound shortly burning the Temple in Jerusalem? 13:3 “One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.” And later there is some interaction between the second and first beast. The second beast “made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.”

        Maybe the second beast is the Domitian, who elevated the imperial cult again from what I understand, and deified Titus. Revelation seems concerned about each of the seven heads having a “blasphemous name.” Maybe the name is the Greek “Kaisar Theos” (divine Caesar, applying to all the kings), which is one of the candidates for the number of the beast (at least for 616). As the author of Revelation insists “this is the number of a man”. Not a god. This could mean that all Roman emperors are intended by this number.

        Consider Revelation 13.4: “People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”” Perhaps the dragon is the god behind Rome, and the beast is the emperor (any emperor). Both are worshipped. And the Roman empire is incredibly powerful– who can wage war against it — a knowing reference to the sad result of the Jewish revolt perhaps.

      2. “But surrounding verses refers to meteors falling from heaven, an image found along with other celestial omens”…
        I don’t know about other celestial omens, but I don’t think they could tell the difference between meteors falling from heaven or rocks ejected by a volcano, and falling back to earth.

        1. Some points of difference are that Rev. 8:8-9 refers to a single entity “like a great mountain burning with fire” being cast into the sea rather than a rain of flaming volcanic rocks, and that its effects were purely on the sea, killing a third part of the living creatures and the ships. The effects of Vesuvius were primarily felt on land. Pliny the Younger described the column of ash and fire, earthquakes, and particular developments over a period of around 18 hours, not a single event. He didn’t describe volcanic ballista and I don’t believe there are any contemporary reports of ships being destroyed (but rather landing in rescue operations).

          Rev. 8:10-11 describes a second “great star from heaven, burning like a lamp” [a typical ancient description of a meteor] that affected the rivers and springs on land. So the first meteor in the sea, the second on land.

          Note though that the lake of fire / bottomless pit of Rev. 19-20 is a clear reference to a volcanic caldera. Greek (and derivative Roman) mythology held that the Titans were confined under volcanic mountains.

          1. I am going by what Metzger said, “to quote Metzger, “If, as is likely, Revelation was written after 79AD, when the sudden eruption of Vesuvius completely engulfed the city of Pompeii with molten lava, and destroyed ships in the Gulf of Naples”…
            Regarding the statement “I don’t believe there are any contemporary reports of ships being destroyed”…

            I don’t know where Metzger got his info, but I’d rather believe his statement. Lava flowing into a bay doesn’t destroy ships in a bay. Unless they are docked right next to the flow.

            1. First, full disclosure, rereading Pliny the Younger’s letter 65 (to Tacitus), I find that as his uncle’s ship approached the shore, “He was now so close to the mountain that the cinders, which grew thicker and hotter the nearer he approached, fell into the ships, together with pumice- stones, and black pieces of burning rock [thought to be obsidian].” So there were burning rocks. And of course volcanic eruptions that impinge the ocean have been known to cause fish-kills [although I recently saw a great recent video of hammerhead and silky sharks in the undersea caldera of a “sharkano”].

              As for Bruce Metzger, my first thought is that, despite his great reputation as a scholar, his source for the quotation in question in this instance is his vivid imagination. [I haven’t been able to see the entirety of Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, page 64: is there a later footnote to support his description? Perhaps someone owns the book.] Vesuvius did not engulf and destroy Pompeii with molten lava. Everybody knows it was a thick layer of hot ash (as reported by Pliny and other sources and as preserved to this day), and specifically a pyroclastic flow of hot air + hot ash like an avalanche that poured down the mountain. The other thing is, I have looked but there are no reports of ships destroyed in the Gulf of Naples, zero. See the exhaustive quotation of all ancient sources (historical, Sibylline, etc.) on Vesuvius in Routledge’s definitive “Pompeii and Herculaneum: A Sourcebook,” pages 37-57.

              1. I’ve got the book. It’s not a research book, so there are very few footnotes. It’s more for popular consumption. Unfortunately no footnotes or references for the page 63, 64, 65, 66 section.

              2. Thanks for the reference. An awesome book. Even the index is linked back to the pages. Quite amazing that it can be downloaded for free.

  7. I find Martin Luther’s comments on Revelation to be “revealing”! 😉


    “Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly [Revelation 22]—indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important—and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all.”

    And perhaps he hints at the possibility that it was revised with Jesus added at a later date?

    “Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do;”

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