2022-09-02

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part D

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by Neil Godfrey

Ms. 28/1378 fol.69v The Resurrection of the Two Witnesses and the Earthquake, from ‘Histoire Extraite de la Bible et Apocalypse’ (vellum) by French School, (15th century). From bridgemanimages

This post concludes Thomas Witulski’s analysis of the text of Revelation 11:3-13.

On the verses describing the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses, W judges that they are inserted by a later hand for the following reasons.

The narrative of the two witnesses up to the moment of their deaths is told in the present and future tenses but there is an abrupt change in tense in the account of their resurrection and ascension. Up until the deaths of the two witnesses we are reading a prophecy: after their deaths, suddenly we are in the “past tense” and what reads like a vision:

The next segment of the narrative (vv 11–13) centers on the unexpected event of the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses as well as the punishment of their enemies. Somewhat surprisingly, this section is dominated by verbs in the past tense, as if it were a narrative of a past sequence of events.

(Aune, 587)

This abrupt change of tense comes with a change of genre, a change to a visionary report:

in vv. 11-13 he changes to the [aorist], as narrating what he had already seen and heard in vision.

(Beckwith, 603)

The imagery of the spirit of God entering them so that they come to life and stand on their feet comes from Ezekiel 37:10, another visionary account.

W discusses various attempts to explain this change of tense: it cannot be a simple Hebraism because the question relates to change of tense, not merely using a past tense to stress the certainty of future events; other proposals fail to explain why a single author would have failed to have reworked his source material to be more consistent with the tense here as he is when reworking material from Zechariah.

His own view, translated, is as follows.

Within the framework of literary criticism, the verses Rev 11:11-13 are to be regarded as not having been written by the apocalyptist, but as having been secondarily inserted into the already existing context by a later hand, without this interpolator having taken into account that Rev 11:3-10 are formulated as a prophecy and not as a visionary report; the insertion was then possibly made in order to align the account of Rev 11 with that tradition which describes the appearance of Elijah and Enoch, offering both their death and their subsequent resurrection, or else in order to present the orientation of the message through the two μάρτυρες as an ultimately successful engagement. Whether the interpolator, who would then have added Rev 11:11-13, would still have been aware of the original reference of the depiction Rev 11:3-10 and its original historical-temporal background, would, however, have to remain extremely questionable.

(translated from Witulski, 128f)

The interpolator was not aware of the original account’s reference to certain historical persons. Such a conclusion begins to make sense of the questions raised in the previous post:

It is also odd that we read nothing further here about the beast from the abyss that had just killed the two “witnesses” or “martyrs”. It is as if he is no longer at the scene to witness the sudden turn of events and the ascension to heaven.

One more oddity: only in this passage in Revelation do enemies of God give glory to God as a result of witnessing or experiencing calamitous events like an earthquake or plague or other catastrophe. In every other such scenario they respond with intensified anger.

The significance of that last point is emphasized again in further discussion below — see text f.

After this analysis of what, exactly, the passage is saying and what appears to be its provenance, W is in a position to demonstrate the historical circumstances that informed details of the account of the two witnesses. But those historical references will have to wait for a future post. At this point we are laying the groundwork for that historical interpretation.

Further indications of a source behind Rev 11:3-13

We have seen some evidence for Revelation 11:3-13 being an adaptation of a pre-existing narrative. Revelation appears to have taken a text about two prophets and adapted it to a contemporary situation, or specifically to two Jewish figures prominent in a conflict with Rome in the time of Hadrian. Following are some additional indicators that Revelation’s apocalyptist is working with a pre-existing text.

Revelation 11:3-13 contains passages that are inconsistent with phrases and terms used in the rest of Revelation. I won’t address all the specifics here but only draw attention to some examples.

text a

and I will grant (or give permission to) … and they will prophesy // καὶ δώσω … καὶ προφητεύσουσιν (Revelation 11:3)

R. H. Charles (cited by W) writes, “this is the only instance of this idiom in the Apocalypse” whereas the verb (διδόναι) is used differently elsewhere in Revelation — See Charles, p. 280 and Witulski, p. 130.

text b

Whenever the apocalyptist uses the phrase έχω (τήν) έξουσίαν in the sense of ‘having power, authority, ability’, the accusative object (τήν) έξουσίαν is placed after the verb έχω; this is shown, for example, in Rev 9:3; 11:6a; 14:18; 16:9 and 18:1. Only in Rev 11:6b does the verb έχω follow the corresponding preceding accusative object (τήν) έξουσίαν. (Witulski, p. 131 – translation)

and

The order of the words, which is largely non-Semitic, differs decidedly from that of our author. — . . . . But more noteworthy are the cases where the object precedes the verb : . . . : xi. 6, ἐξουσίαν ἔχουσιν (here only in this order in the text of the Apocalypse) . . . (Charles, p. 272)

text c

It is at least striking that the term πόλις ή μεγάλη [=great city] in Rev 11:8 unquestionably refers to the city of Jerusalem, whereas in Rev 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21 it means the capital of the imperium Romanum, namely Rome, characterised especially in these chapters with the theological cipher Βαβυλών [=Babylon]. (Witulski, p. 131 – translation)

and

τῆς πόλεως τῆς μεγάλης. This phrase is used of Rome throughout the rest of the book : cf. xvi. 19, xvii. 18, xviii. 10, 16, 18, 19, 2i, and under the figure of Βαβυλων μεγάλη, xiv. 8, xvi. 19, xvii. 5, xviii. 2. The latter use is decidedly that of our author ; the former belongs to the original document, and is left there by our author. (Charles, p. 287)

text d

In the past, numerous exegetes have already observed that the verb θεωρέω in the sense of ‘to see, to look’ in the whole of the Rev only occurs in Rev 11:11 and Rev 11:12. Otherwise, when the apocalyptist wants to express this activity, he uses the verbs βλέπω and όράω with great frequency. (Witulski, p. 132 – translation)

text e

As a rule, the apocalyptist constructs the verb εισέρχομαι with εις c.acc., as is shown by the three instances of the corresponding construction of the verb in the Rev: Rev 15:8; 21:27; 22:14. The phrase εἰσῆλθεν έν αὐτοῖς [=entered into them] present in Rev 11:11 thus clearly does not correspond to the Apocalyptist’s usage.(Witulski, p. 132 – translation)

text f

Within the entire Apocalypse, only in the account Rev 11:13 do the survivors of a catastrophe or plague react to this very event with terror and, following this, with their turning to God. . . . The turning of the survivors to God as a reaction to a natural disaster, formulated in Rev 11:13, is thus singular in the Apocalypse as a whole. (Witulski, p. 132-3 – translation)

and

Furthermore, with regard to the theological goal of the Apocalypse as a whole, it is important to note that the apocalyptic writer is not concerned with missionary work and missionary proclamation and thus with contributing to the growth of the Christian congregation or congregations or with reporting on the spread of the Christian faith. His theological concern is rather “to reveal the real powers that threaten Christians . . . in order to prevent them from renouncing God and his Christ”. The author of the Apocalypse calls his addressees to faithfulness and steadfastness in the face of threats and pressures from their pagan environment – which in turn fits well with the description in Rev 9:20f.; 16:9, 11, 21; 6:15-17. In this respect, it seems that the apparent missionary, or rather conversion theological impetus of Rev 11:13 points in a completely different direction from that of the impetus of the entire work. (Witulski, p. 133 – translation)

and

However, a conversion at the time of historical consummation is an idea found nowhere else in the Apocalypse, one that contradicts the basic thought that those to be redeemed are “a limited group” or remnant who are delivered from the world of unbelief (7:1–8; 14:1–5; 18:4). (Beale, p. 607 – cited by W)

Incongruities of language and content within Revelation 11:3-13

What are we to make of the enemies of the two witnesses?

In 11:12 they appear as active participants —

And they ascended up to Heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them

but in 11:5 they are hypothetical entities —

And if any man will hurt them . . .

while in 11:9-10, when we would expect to see them rejoicing and gloating, they are entirely absent —

And they of the people and kindreds, and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.

yet then in 11:11-12, those “people and kindreds and tongues and nations” who had been witnessing and rejoicing over the dead bodies are themselves absent from the scene —

But after three days and a half, the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them that saw them. And they heard a great voice from Heaven, saying unto them, “Come up hither!” And they ascended up to Heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them.

What are we to make of the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit to kill the two witnesses?

In Rev 11:7 he rises up and kills them —

And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them and kill them.

But then he disappears, not even to be seen again when his victims lie dead in the street (presumably at the feet of the beast or certainly not far from him) and are brought back to life and taken up to heaven as a great earthquake strikes (Rev 11:9-13)–

And they of the people and kindreds, and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. But after three days and a half, the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them that saw them. And they heard a great voice from Heaven, saying unto them, “Come up hither!” And they ascended up to Heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them. And that same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth part of the city fell; and in the earthquake were slain seven thousand men, and the remnant were seized with fear, and gave glory to the God of Heaven.

What are we to make of a passage that contains both the correct and incorrect form of a word? W comments that while we expect errors from the author of Revelation who is known for them, what is strange is that the correct form is used in the same passage as the incorrect one.

8 And their dead bodies [singular in Greek: πτῶμα] shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

9 And they of the people and kindreds, and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies [singular in Greek: πτῶμα] three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies [correct plural in Greek: πτώματα] to be put in graves.

The problem of the repentance of the onlookers:

Finally, it is worth noting that the repentance of those spared by the earthquake described in Rev 11:13 is not motivated by the sermon of repentance of the two μάρτυρες, as might have been assumed on the basis of Rev 11:3ff, but obviously by the natural disaster. This raises the question of the contextual connection between Rev 11:13 and Rev 11:3-7.

(Witulski, 135 — translation)

Explanations

It is unlikely that the apocalyptist has composed 11:3-13 completely independently. The inconsistencies with both the language and content of the rest of Revelation as well as the incongruities within the passage indicate that the author was working with a source. And is there more than one author at work to explain the oddities with the resurrection and ascension passage (11:11-13)?

We know how the main author freely adapted Old Testament and apocryphal sources into Revelation. He was not a slave to his sources. We can therefore expect the same creative use and adaptation of other sources. W offers an extended discussion of how in Revelation we see an adaptation of a tradition we find in 1 Enoch, 3 Esdras and 2 Baruch with a focus on the particular way the revisions have been made to be consistent with the themes of Revelation. Noting how traditional material is reworked into the rest of Revelation, W cannot accept that the passage about the earthquake and repentance of onlookers is written by the same hand responsible for the main body of Revelation.

That is, the account of the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses in Rev 11:11-13 that stands in contradiction to the main themes and purpose of Revelation is the work of someone other than the main author. The evidence for how the main author treated other source material stands against the likelihood that when it came to this passage he was suddenly careless and quoted a source without thinking of its place in his larger work.

The analysis of the incongruities in the language and content of Rev 11:3-13 led to the conclusion that the verses Rev 11,11-13 are to be ascribed to a later hand. This also clarifies the problem described at the beginning of the striking change of tense from Rev 11:10 to Rev 11:11 – the change of tense is due to the interpolator who – rather inattentively – followed up the prophecy in Rev 11:3-10, which is formulated throughout in the future tense, with a text that presents itself as a visionary report.

(Witulski, 141 — translation)

 


Aune, David E. Revelation 6-16. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 52B. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2017.

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Carlisle, Cumbria: Eerdmans, 1998. https://archive.org/details/bookofrevelation0000beal/mode/2up

Beckwith, Isbon Thaddeus. The Apocalypse of John; Studies in Introduction, with a Critical and Exegetical Commentary. New York : The Macmillan Co., 1919. http://archive.org/details/cu31924029295066.

Charles, R. H. (Robert Henry). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John: With Introduction, Notes, and Indices, Also the Greek Text and English Translation. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920. http://archive.org/details/criticalexegetic0044char.

Witulski, Thomas. Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand : eine zeitgeschichtliche Interpretation. Tübingen : Mohr Siebeck, 2012. http://archive.org/details/apk11undderbarko0000witu.


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11 thoughts on “The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part D”

  1. Neil, if we grant that “Revelation appears to have taken a text about two prophets and adapted it to a contemporary situation, or specifically to two Jewish figures prominent in a conflict with Rome in the time of Hadrian”, the two clear candidates would appear to be Bar Kochba and Rabbi Akiva. Am I right in assuming that Witulski spells that out?

    1. You are indeed half right. Yes, Simon bar Kochba but with high priest Elazar are the “two witnesses” in W’s assessment. I initially had expected to cover only the last part of W’s book but somehow thought it appropriate in this case to begin with part 1 and the analysis of the text that supports this identification later in the book.

    2. I was wrong with my initial reply. With Akiva being so commonly associated with Bar Kochba I had forgotten that Witulski actually identifies the high priest Elazar as one of the “two witnesses”.

      1. If, as Witulski claims, Zechariah 4 is in the background of the Two Witnesses passage, then a pairing of Bar Kochba with the high priest Eleazar does indeed seem more appropriate than one with Rabbi Akiva.
        And am I understanding this correctly: Witulski’s identification of the two witnesses as Bar Kochba and Eleazar would seem to indicate that he considers at least the original redaction of the book of Revelation to be a Jewish – not a Christian – writing, no? For as far as we know, Christians did not support Bar Kochba and, according to Justin, were attacked for their failure to do so.

        1. Ouch! I have finished reading W more closely and he goes to some length to explain that Eleazar was not recognized as a “high priest” but only as a “priest”. I’ve set that out in my more recent post at https://vridar.org/2022/09/11/the-simon-bar-kochba-rebellion/#eleazar

          If not high priest but only priest, that would fit with the idea that no high priest could exist without a temple, and also Bar Kochba himself identified only as a “prince” and not as a king.

          But yes — your question is one I am trying to think through as well. I have not seen where W discusses that point, though I may have to look more closely at his book on Apk 11. He covered much territory that he expanded on in his other works arguing for a Hadrianic date and I did not read all of that chapter since I assumed I had the main points from his other books.

          I could ask what his views are. I did attempt to contact him once but got no reply. (I wondered if he gets snowed with all sorts of emails on Revelation from laity.)

          W does seem to argue that the two witnesses are not presented as God’s witnesses. He points out that the voice introducing them is not identified. Further, he does argue that they are not Christians given their violence against their enemies.

          So W does distance them from Christians.

          Still, they do appear as heroic figures, surely — doomed to failure though the author believes them to be.

          As for the persecution of Christians by Bar Kochba as per Justin’s account, that does look like a sticking point at first. But then I have to recall that W’s thesis is that Revelation was written at the beginning of the Bar Kochba war. One can imagine persecutions entering the stage once the revolt started going badly for the rebels — presumably after the arrival of Severus from Britain.

          1. Neil, regarding your last comment:

            “As for the persecution of Christians by Bar Kochba as per Justin’s account, that does look like a sticking point at first. But then I have to recall that W’s thesis is that Revelation was written at the beginning of the Bar Kochba war. One can imagine persecutions entering the stage once the revolt started going badly for the rebels — presumably after the arrival of Severus from Britain.”

            This could also explain the change of tense in vv. 11-13 that you cover earlier in the post. And it calls to mind Joseph Turmel’s thesis that there are parts of Revelation that were written at the beginning of the revolt of 132 and others that were added at the end of it. (Of course, for Turmel both parts were written by Jews and only subsequently were Christian alterations made to the book.)

            1. I have been catching up with some more reading (Applebaum) about the Bar Kochba war in a work that only reached me after my posts. I think another factor that must be considered is that the evidence indicates that Bar Kochba’s areas of operations were generally the rural areas, the rocky-hilly and wooded country. He avoided concentrations in and defences of the cities, especially Jerusalem of course, which may have been the result of learning from the lessons of the war of 66-70 CE. At the same time, there were apparently large scale migrations of Jews out of Judea to avoid the conflict.

              The rebellion apparently began among the rural populations who were the most severely hurt by Roman rule after 70/73.

              If the Christians were opposed to the war, even “pro-Roman” as many Judeans were, the above situations would raise questions about the extent and timing of Bar Kochba’s persecutions of Christians, I think.

        2. I was also surprised that W seems not to have made any reference to Jerome’s account of Bar Kochba being reputed to have breathed fire from his mouth.

        3. One more point that I overlooked. Recall that W’s discussion of the four horsemen of the apocalypse similarly refers to Jewish history as part of the disasters at the end-time — in particular the Jewish rebellions in the time of Trajan.

  2. I second the comment of Russell: this series of analysis of Revelation 11 is fascinating. I keep wondering where the next turn of the argument will go. Sort of rooting for Witulski’s analysis, so good so far, to be able to bring it home and “land the plane” with a solid Hadrian-dating explanation.

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