2022-10-03

Why Genesis 1-3 is Different from Other Myths — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3b]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, for the review copy.

(continuing the series on Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts) ….

If the authors of Genesis were inspired by Plato’s discourse on the origins of the cosmos in Timaeus how can one explain the obvious contrast between Plato’s lengthy scientific and philosophical reasoning and the simple narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3?

To answer this question Russell Gmirkin [RG] begins by explaining that there were “seven distinct modes of Greek discourse on cosmogony” and that authors adapted their rhetoric according to the particular audiences each had in view.

1. Scientific Discourse: Natural philosophers most often wrote for their elite, wealthy and educated peers. “Schools” or “universities” were established by prominent thinkers (e.g. Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum) and cosmogonies were written to share the extended philosophical reasoning underlying their cosmogonies.

2. Revealed Myth: Parmenides of Elea wrote cosmogonies addressed to two different audiences. In Way of Truth he wrote a detailed scientific discourse for his educated peers. In Way of Opinion he wrote a cosmogony in the form of a myth that was being taught by the goddess Justice or Necessity.

Bust of Parmenides discovered at Velia (Wikipedia)

In this mode of discourse, the aim was not to achieve knowledge but to induce belief in the theories being presented. Here Parmenides appears to have anticipated Plato, who advocated implanting beliefs in the citizenry as a necessary precursor to achieving true knowledge in a select few . . . . It appears that Parmenides (like Plato) saw a social utility in presenting theories of cosmogony to the general public under divine authority, since he named the appropriate goddess as Necessity or Justice, “who steers the course of all things,” suggesting that a mythical account on cosmogony that recognized a divine steering principle was needed to ensure a pious and just citizenry. It appears that the populace was induced to believe not only that this account of the origins of the universe was divine, but also had the endorsement of the scientific educated elites. The poetic form of the discourse may have been intended to enhance its appeal to the masses. (pp. 66f)

3. Myth as Discourse (Enchantment): Plato taught that in an ideal government philosophers should rule and oversee all aspects of education from infancy to adulthood. The curriculum for the young had to consist of myths that fostered “good” behaviour. These myths needed to be attractive to all ages, especially the young, and hence were to be relayed in songs, poems, theatrical performances and public readings at festivals. Existing myths that told of gods were useful but first had to be censored by the philosopher rulers to remove from them every negative and immoral act of the gods. Nothing bad about the gods was to enter the minds of the citizens. Education was to encompass the whole society, from mothers telling infants nursery rhymes to entertaining performances (singing, reading, acting) for the young and adults.

The aim and intended reception of discourse by myth was to induce belief, and thereby implement societal conformity to theological and ethical norms. Myth, whether in the form of song, story or theatrical performance, was chosen as the medium for inducing belief, due to the pleasant, entertaining, enchanting character of the myth . . . Myth was thus the chosen rhetorical tool to condition the emotions and convey theological and ethical truths on a pre-rational level to intellectually unsophisticated audiences. (p. 68)

Genesis 1 reads as an authoritative story. It was not entirely a myth like other creation myths. It presented a scientific account of the moving power over the primordial chaos bringing about a series of separations that led to day and night, earth and sea, the spontaneous generation of life forms from the ocean, and so forth.

A story format was highly suitable for instilling beliefs about God’s fashioning of the universe for audiences of all ages and was easily understood by school children and even the youngest children, important target audiences under Plato’s system of education. (p. 68)

The second creation account (Genesis 2:4ff) follows up the cosmogony with a mythical narrative about the origins of animals and humans, the reason humans dominate the animals, the introduction of sexual reproduction and clothing, etc. It is a story easily understood by all, from the very young to the old. The beginning of the account may be a subtle reminder of Greek myths:

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created . . .  — see Gen 2:4 for the Hebrew text

Continue reading “Why Genesis 1-3 is Different from Other Myths — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3b]”


2022-10-02

Genesis = Science + Myth + Theology — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3a]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Here is the thesis that Russell Gmirkin [RG] is buttressing in Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts:

Plato’s writings, including Plato’s Laws, envisioned theologically trained educated elites ruling the nation and creating a national literature to shape the beliefs and character of the ordinary citizenry, both youths and adults (Gmirkin 2017: 255-61). The creation of the cosmogony of Genesis 1 should be understood as part of just such a national literary enterprise under the direction of the ruling class elites. (p. 75)
With thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, for sending me a review copy.

The thesis has been the subject of earlier books that have been discussed in detail on this blog. In support of that interpretation RG analyses the Genesis creation chapter to demonstrate its relationship to Greek “philosophical” ideas and in particular, Plato’s Timaeus.

Anyone familiar with Timaeus will be immediately thinking, But Timaeus contains a very lengthy explanation of the origins of our cosmos and Genesis 1 is, well, extremely short. Yes, but Plato also said something else that is most pertinent to this discussion that is alluded to in the above quotation.  Hear out RG. I will do my best to present his analysis and comparisons fairly and accurately.

The ancient Greek science context of Genesis

Ancient Greek science was a process of inferring how and why the observable world came about and worked the way it did but the idea of carrying out experiments to test ideas had to wait for a future time.

We have clear demarcations between the study of the origins of the universe and the study of the origins of societies. Not so ancient Greek thinkers. For them, the “history of nature” bracketed all in one course the question of the origins of the universe, of life, of humankind, of social institutions, of technologies, of political systems.

The questions they asked were:

  • What was the nature and origin of the “stuff” from which the cosmos came about?
  • What were the forces (e.g. floating and sinking, separation of matter by winnowing), and the origins of those forces, that acted on that “stuff” to cause it to behave the way it did?
  • How did those forces cause the cosmos to come into existence?

The thinkers were not called “scientists”. Aristotle called them “students of nature” or “writers on nature” (see the Loeb edition of Aristotle’s Physics). Later authors called them “philosophers” and that’s the common label attached to them today. RG addresses the problematic state of the evidence for our knowledge of what these natural philosophers theorized but we do have some general ideas, however provisional, and he provides an interesting set of entries for them to enable us to get some idea of the intellectual context RG is arguing for Genesis 1. (The links are my own, of course, and not RG’s) Continue reading “Genesis = Science + Myth + Theology — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 3a]”


2022-09-30

Genesis 1 “Amazing” “Unique” — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 2]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, for sending me a review copy.

The creation account in Genesis 1 is unlike other creation myths from the ancient world.

There are little hints in the chapter that the author was aware of more dramatic myths of gods fighting monsters and in the process creating the cosmos, but unlike those myths Genesis 1:1-2:3 appears to be . . .

. . . a radical purification and distillation of all mythical and speculative elements, an amazing theological accomplishment!

This account of creation is unique in this respect among the cosmogonies of other religions. . . . But the atmosphere of Gen., ch. 1, is not primarily one of reverence, awe, or gratitude, but one of theological reflection. . . . But just this renunciation also mediates aesthetically the impression of restrained power and lapidary greatness. (Rad 1972, 64)

In an earlier edition of his commentary Gerhard von Rad skirted along the sides of Russell Gmirkin’s thesis:

Some terms:
Ionic refers to one of the four Greek tribes: Ionians, Dorians, Achaeans, Aeolians
Natural philosophy: theories about the natural world, nature
Cosmogony: theories on the origin of the universe
Theogony: Account of the origin of the gods
Theomachy: Account of war among gods

One can speak . . . only in a very limited sense of a dependence of this account of creation on extra-Israelite myths. Doubtless there are some terms which obviously were common to ancient Oriental, cosmological thought; but even they are so theologically filtered . . . that scarcely more than the word itself is left in common. Considering [the author’s] superior spiritual maturity, we may be certain that terms which did not correspond to his ideas of faith could be effortlessly avoided or recoined. What does the term “tehōm” (the “deep”) in v. 2, the word for the unformed abysmal element of creation, still have in common with the mythically objective world dragon, Tiamat, in the Babylonian creation epic? Genesis, ch. 1, does not know the struggle of two personified cosmic primordial principles; not even a trace of one hostile to God can be detected! The tehōm has no power of its own; one cannot speak of it at all as though it existed for itself alone, but it exists for faith only with reference to God’s creative will, which is superior to it. In our chapter this careful distillation of everything mythological (but only this) reminds one of the sober reflections of the Ionic natural philosophers. (Rad 1961, 63)

But Rad was writing from the conventional perspective that what we read in Genesis was the product of centuries of thought, writing and re-writing. Rad seemed to think that his 1961 reference to the Ionic natural philosophers was even a potential distraction so he dropped it in the revised edition. For Gmirkin [RG] the Ionic philosophers were indeed the key to understanding why the creation account of Genesis is, as Rad observed, “unique”. But that possibility, as we noted in the previous post, has not entered into the discussion as a possibility until now.

Before addressing those “sober reflections of the Ionic natural philosophers” RG explores the different types of cosmogonies that the people of Israel surely knew about from their neighbours. His text is packed with details and references. It is not a quick, light, read. Ideas set out in one place reappear in support of a more comprehensive view later in the chapter. Fortunately, I am the kind of reader who appreciates more detail rather than less and recontextualized repetitions rather than dangerous shortcuts. To address the key ideas here, though, I need to stand back and rethink and distil all that I have read. (That’s part of my excuse for not posting sooner. Another reason is that I have been sidetracked with other books that have newly arrived on loan and in the post.)

Creation Myths

RG begins his survey of ancient creation myths with theogonies. The famous Greek one is Hesiod’s Theogony. The first god was Chaos and from Chaos was “born” Gaia or Earth, and so forth. You can see how it goes from a diagram I have borrowed from Karen Sonik‘s publication:

From Hesiod’s Abyss to Ovid’s rudis indigestaque moles

RG discusses the comparable anthropomorphisms of Babylonian and Canaanite gods. Those cultures have left us no comparable theogonies, however. Of particular interest, of course, is that for the Greeks it all began with Chaos: we are aware of a similar origin in the opening words of Genesis.

Slaying Tiamat – Wikipedia

A better-known class of myths are the theomachies. The Titan Kronos (the Roman Saturn) castrates Ouranos and inaugurates a new (golden) age in which humankind was created; later Zeus led his supporters in a war against Kronos and the other Titans; each successive event introducing a new era. But these Greek “wars of the gods” were not related to the creation of the cosmos. For that we turn to the Babylonian story of Marduk killing the sea monster Tiamat, cutting her body apart and using it to form the sky and earth – and from her blood creating the first humans who also incorporated some divine element from the slain god. Tiamat reminds us of the Hebrew word for deep as we saw in Rad’s quotation above. RG also draws our attention to further instances of overlaps with Genesis – Marduk being interpreted as light and wind which he used as weapons against Tiamat.

All of the above is far from the kind of creation narrative we read in Genesis 1.

When we come closer to our home of special interest, Canaan, we finally encounter stories that have surfaced to some extent in the Bible, but not in Genesis. Continue reading “Genesis 1 “Amazing” “Unique” — [Biblical Creation Accounts/Plato’s Timaeus – 2]”


2022-09-25

Biblical Creation Accounts and Plato – 1

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, for sending me a review copy.

Similarities between the Pentateuch and Greek literature have long been noted and discussed in scholarly literature, but most of those discussions have assumed that the Greeks and the authors of the biblical books were independently drawing on Asiatic stories or even that some Greeks were exposed to translations of parts of the Pentateuch. (Evangelia Dafni is one such scholar who today argues for that latter position; Franz Dornseiff once argued for the former.) Others have flatly denied any serious or significant analogies between the Pentateuch and Greek works, relegating supposed parallels to coincidence or over-active imaginations. That dreaded fourteen letter word comes to mind: “parallelomania“.

Russell Gmirkin [RG] has a new book, Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts: Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism in the Primordial History. My blog posts on his two earlier books are archived at Berossus and Genesis and Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. I anticipate doing a chapter by chapter review of his new work on Genesis 1-11.

Genesis 1-11 or the Primordial History covers the span of time from Creation and the misadventures of the first humans, through the Flood and up to the Tower of Babel story. It stops prior to the introduction of Abraham and the beginning of Israel’s story. The Primordial History stages characters with enormous life-spans, a talking snake, angels with flaming swords, a god walking the earth, “sons of god” mating with women to produce “men of renown”, a world-wide flood that reminds us of the Epic of Gilgamesh and a divine intervention to confound the languages of humanity and scatter them across the earth. Before all of that we read how God created heaven and earth, beginning with the creation of light days before he made the sun! These chapters are clearly a different type of unit from the rest of the Pentateuch. Where does it all come from?

Even within chapters 1-11 exegetes have long noted a sudden break between the seven-day creation (1:1 to 2:3) on the one hand and the detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, (2:4ff) on the other. How did two accounts, one seeming to contradict the other, come to be placed side by side? And what are we to make of the different names of God: Elohim and Yahweh Elohim?

Forgive me, but I have an aversion to the term “Near East” given its imperialist Eurocentric origin and perspective. Besides, from where I live in Australia the regions of the Levant and Mesopotamia are “Far West”.

The ideas explored in RG’s new book will be a challenge-too-far for some readers who have been immersed in the Documentary Hypothesis and its assumption that the writings of the Bible evolved over centuries from the time of the biblical kingdoms of Israel-Judah (from 900 BCE) and were more or less completed by the end of the Persian era in the fifth century, that is, before the conquests of Alexander and the onset of the Hellenistic period. This traditional view holds that the first five books of the Bible grew out of the literary matrix of Mesopotamia and Syria-Canaan. Possible Greek influence is not even considered.

In his earlier books RG explored the case for a Hellenistic date for the Pentateuch and this new volume is a continuation of those earlier works. His aim is to see what happens when we compare a wider range of possible influences — adding Greek data into the mix — on the Primordial History. I hasten to point out that RG by no means denies influence from the Levantine-Mesopotamian region. But the devils are in the details when identifying the most likely sources of transmission. It is not an either-or discussion but a modified form of both-and, albeit with some adjustments concerning what the evidence indicates about who was responsible for the transmission and when.

In his opening chapter RG explains

  • how he will go about identifying the sources behind the Primordial History

and

  • an overview of the history of the scholarly views of Genesis 1-11 and where his own research fits.

To what shall we compare thee?

Continue reading “Biblical Creation Accounts and Plato – 1”


2022-09-16

Hillsong

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

http://www.tanyalevin.com/ After I completed this post I clicked my my Fundamentalism link and was reminded that I had read part of Tanya’s book last year and posted some thoughts arising from it then. I thought this time round that some of it was familiar! Maybe there’s still a wee bit more of the cult experience in me to exorcise after all. 

Dear Tanya,

I saw you last week on Compass and have since read your book about your experience in Hillsong. It was a most enjoyable read — your conversational style, your humour, sharing your pain, your observations, your joys, your caring.

I was reminded painfully (and sometimes with some brief moments of joy and appreciation) of my own experience in a religious cult. You were brought up in yours; I chose mine when in my late teens. Yours was what my cult would have called a “free and easy” one; by contrast I would describe mine as very tightly controlled and regimented. But your book has opened my eyes to see how similar the two different cults have been and are.

When I first left my cult I went straight for the libraries and bookshops to find books to read works that would help me make sense of my experience. What astonished me at the time was learning that though we had always thought of ourselves as unique, as a church teaching a way of life that could be traced back to the first and second chapters of Acts, and that no other church claiming to be Christian was the least bit like us, — what I learned was how very, very, similar, alike, we were to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hari Krishna or Moonies,. . . . you name it, they all share the same horrendous modus operandi (as you also came to learn). We could never imagine ourselves being like yours — Pentecostal, tongues, inviting outsiders to fellowship without prior vetting, music-dominated services, feel-good preaching — we were opposed to all of that stuff but your book has shown me that we were still the same.

Cults come in many guises.

But there are the same fundamental techniques of manipulation. There’s the same black-and-white thinking. I smiled when I read that you didn’t understand a word your first-year sociology lectures were talking about. I, too, could not make sense of my initial course in sociology. A minister had said things like our daily routines should be private and not the subject of study and I sure as hell could not make sense of trying to study how our lives worked according to scientific models. What I did not recognize at the time was that that sort of thinking was totally contrary to all I understood about life as something between “me and God and my church” — I could not recognize that I was living in a fairy tale world patterned after the Book of Revelation and Bible Prophecy.

There is the busy-ness of it all. That’s another common feature. There is no time for anything else. After our daily studies and meditations at home and our week-night bible studies and our other week-night speaking clubs and our weekly all day worship time and our other fellowship or “doing the work” time — there was no time to do anything but maintain the mind-game of fighting to hold oneself all together.

And the judgmentalism. Church members often commented to me that they expected me to become a minister eventually but what they did not know was that I had “confessed” to our authorities certain private doubts and alternative readings of the Bible (I actually came to realize I knew more about the Bible than those trained in our Bible Colleges) — and personal weaknesses. The authorities knew things that would always mean I would be deemed with some suspicion, some degree of wariness. I could continue to attend so long as I shut up about it all.

You mention gays. Yes, they “did not exist” in our church, either. Though looking back I can now see what I failed to see at the time about some of my associates. I knew then that they were struggling with a pain I could not fathom but now I can see what they were going through, or at least the root cause of their unfathomable pain in such a church.

The church — yours and mine — cannot understand “man’s ways” which are the “ways of the devil”. I think of the many people who needed just a little wisdom that could be gleaned from some basic understanding of psychology, people, say, with pasts that involved PTSD, with people who are at various points on the autism spectrum, with drug addicts, . . . our churches are pretty much guaranteed to make their conditions and suffering worse. But for a time they will continue to put on a brave face and play make-believe with their “new self”.

And yes, why is it that your church began in much the same way as ours — with a man who would today be condemned as a sexual predator and who sought some sort of escape from his personal failings by means of some charismatically shared visions.

And the pain of leaving and leaving it all behind. Discovering that one’s friends, one’s “brothers and sisters in Christ”, are nowhere to be found. They are behind cement walls and out of sight and hearing range. They are not fearing enough for your salvation to come looking for you. You are dead to them. That was one of the hardest parts, as you know. Discovering that people you believed were spiritual family, closer than your physical family, only cared for you insofar as they saw you as part of their “body of Christ”. Leave it and you vanish like a fly out the window.

When you wrote the book it was clear you were still working through your feelings about leaving. It took me some years to do the same. Quite some years. I went through various stages as you have done. I think by now I really do have it pretty much for most part out of my system. I think that because I no longer write about it as much as I used to and I have less interest in engaging with the topic as I used to.

What is also frustrating is seeing others leave only to turn to some other idionsyncratic cultish world of their own. They missed the point.

I have since studied other movements like the radicalization of extremists, in particular suicide bombers and Islamist terrorists. I wrote about various studies about those persons on this blog and was always mindful of how similar the recruitment processes and experiences of those young men and women were to yours and mine. Now we see new forms of extreme right-wing radicalization and conspiracy theory groups: there we see the same processes at work only without the religious cloaks that we are familiar with.

When I left my cult, I thought for a while I would enter a world of enlightenment and freedom. That was only partly true. I — and no doubt you, too — can see “mind-control” and radicalization techniques at work a mile off, whether it’s in the world of religion or politics or some other social movement – or should that be “antisocial” movement.

It was a good and refreshing reminder of the world of the cult experience, Tanya, and I thank you for your book. I hope others who are beginning to question their experience with Hillsong or something similar read it and find assurance through it — assurance that they are not mad, but very normal, and that they are saner than they have ever been for having those doubts.

Sincerely,

Neil

P.S. And omg, what a relief it is to be rid of that Hillsong Prime Minister who boasted he was secretly laying hands on every victim of a natural disaster that he touched, and who had no respect for fundamental democratic norms, and the rest… oh the pentecostal/cult smugness that just reeked through!

 


2022-09-15

List of Vridar Posts on the Book of Revelation

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I have added a new page in the right column under Archives By Topic to allow easy access to the complete list of recent posts on Revelation presenting Thomas Witulski’s second century date for the work. The page also includes all other posts that have discussed Revelation from various perspectives.

But since we’re here right now, here is a copy of that page:

Annotated list of Vridar posts on the Book of Revelation

Continue reading “List of Vridar Posts on the Book of Revelation”


2022-09-12

Revelation 11: Measuring the Temple and Two Witnesses – A Contemporary Interpretation

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Thomas Witulski

This post concludes my reading of Thomas Witulski’s three works proposing that the Book of Revelation was written at the time of Hadrian and the outbreak of the Bar Kochba War.

  • The first series, taken from Die Johannesoffenbarung und Kaiser Hadrian, covered Hadrian’s identification with Zeus, his popularity as a Nero Redivivus, and his propagandist Polemon’s activities in Asia Minor and their impact on Christians there;
  • the second series with Die Vier Apokalyptischen Reiter Apk 6,1-8 surveyed the years of Trajan’s conquests, the widespread Jewish rebellions and the consequences of their savage suppression, represented by “the four horsemen of the apocalypse”;
  • this third round has dipped into Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand to see how W understands the measuring of the temple and the two witnesses of Revelation 11.

I prefer to read works cited for myself to gain a fuller knowledge and understanding of the evidence and interpretations being raised. This has been especially helpful since I rely on machine translations of the German works and sometimes it has been a struggle to be sure I have grasped the exact idea W has sought to convey. The wider reading has led me sometimes to go beyond W’s specific content but I hope I have made it clear whenever I have done so. With this final series some of the works I have wanted to read have still not reached me so I may later return to expand on one or two parts of the discussion. I do appreciate critical comments that some readers have added. It may take me a few days to catch up with them but they are always important to help keep us honest and thorough in our explorations of this text and what it can tell us about early Christian history.

W’s final chapter brings together his analyses of the text and examination of the primary evidence for the events of the early second century.

A Contemporary Interpretation of the Measuring of the Temple (Rev 11:1-2)

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.

If read against contemporary history, W concludes, this passage can be interpreted as an allusion to Hadrian’s visit to the province of Judea in 130 CE and his efforts to embed a Hellenistic-Roman culture that was opposed to “Old Testament” Jewish thinking. The rebels’ program to rebuild the Yahweh sanctuary in Jerusalem and to reinstall a temple priest cult should also be understood in this context.

For W, the measuring presupposes that the buildings are not yet constructed (or have been destroyed) at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse. This corresponds to the conditions in Jerusalem on the eve of the Bar Kochba revolt as Cassius Dio describes them.

W cites the many works that have discussed the thesis that Hadrian’s decision to rebuild Jerusalem as the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. The question in part focuses on the contradictory ancient sources. We only have an epitome of Cassius Dio’s History and that condenses the original words to:

At Jerusalem he founded a city in place of the one which had been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the temple of the god he raised a new temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration, for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there. (LXIX, 12, 1f)

Eusebius, however, informs us that Cassius Dio’s “cause” was rather the “result” of the war:

The climax of the war came in Hadrian’s eighteenth year, in Betthera, an almost impregnable little town not very far from Jerusalem. The blockade from without lasted so long that hunger and thirst brought the revolutionaries to complete destruction, and the instigator of their crazy folly paid the penalty he deserved. From that time on, the entire race has been forbidden to set foot anywhere in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, under the terms and ordinances of a law of Hadrian which ensured that not even from a distance might Jews have a view of their ancestral soil. Aristo of Pella tells the whole story. When in this way the city was closed to the Jewish race and suffered the total destruction of its former inhabitants, it was colonized by an alien race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose changed its name, so that now, in honour of the emperor then reigning, Aelius Hadrianus, it is known as Aelia. Furthermore, as the church in the city was now composed of Gentiles, the first after the bishops of the Circumcision to be put in charge of the Christians there was Mark. (Church History, 1.6)

It is in theory possible to harmonize the two accounts and hypothesize that Hadrian’s declaration of his plan to build the new capital led to the outbreak of the war and that he completed that task after the war’s end. The critical question of what exactly Hadrian accomplished prior to hostilities remains. In the words of one of the scholars W references,

The contradiction can easily be understood if we examine it from a historical perspective. Hadrian declared his will to rebuild the famous and sacred city of the past around 130 CE, on the occasion of his voyage to the east. He may even have accomplished some practical steps toward the actual foundation, including the pomerium. At that stage, the Jews, who could not bear the idea of a new Greek-Roman city being built in place of their historical and sacred capital, decided to rebel. Only after the suppression of the revolt, in 135 CE, was the city actually built.

As is well known, Hadrian accompanied the foundation of Aelia Ca­pitolina by two symbolic anti-Jewish acts. The name of the Provincia Iudaea was changed to Provincia Syria Palaestina, and the Jews were expelled from the city and its region. There is no reason to believe that Hadrian would have contemplated such symbolic acts were it not for the Bar Kokhba revolt. It seems likely that the Emperor intended to enhance his reputation as a builder and restorer of ruined and unfinished monuments and as a benefactor of cities. It also seems likely that the Emperor expected to be embraced and admired by the citizens of Iudaea, and particularly by the Jews, for rebuilding the famous city of Jerusalem, as did the citizens of many other cities, including Gerasa (Jerash) of Ara­bia.

Though such an interpretation cannot be proved, it seems to me very reasonable. The conclusion that Hadrian had in mind the restoration of a city named Hierosolyma is more likely than the conclusion that he had decided on a completely new name already as early as 130. It should be remembered that although Jerusalem was indeed ruinous at that time, it was not totally deserted, and life had begun to be revive[d]. The replace­ment of the famous historical name Jerusalem by Aelia Capitolina was a very severe and symbolic act, analogous to the changing of the name Iudaea into Syria Palaestina, or in short, Palestine. In both cases the Imperial administration intentionally suppressed Jewish national feel­ings. (Tsafrir, 32f — recall that coins personified Judea in Greco-Roman dress)

In trying to make the most of Cassius Dio’s words through his epitomizer, Xiphilinus, Eliav concludes,

67 Such a characterization of the writer’s intensions (sic) may be the reason that, as Isaac has already pointed out . . . this passage, unlike other descrip­tions found in Dio, focuses wholly on the temple built by Hadrian without mentioning any other urban actions (of the kind mentioned later in the Chronicon Paschale).

To summarize, the clause describing Hadrian’s actions on the Temple Mount bears the stamp of a Christian writer such as Xiphilinus (or any­ one before him). This conclusion is derived from content gaps in the structural design of the passage, from its vocabulary, and from the theo­logical tendencies it reflects. Dio’s original version has been lost, but it might be possible to reconstruct it using the clues in the second segment. Describing the events from the Jewish perspective, Dio tells of the Jews’ dissatisfaction with the foreign shrines placed in their city (ίuερά άλλότρια έν αύτή ίδρυθήναι). It may be that the first segment described the same situation, that is, Hadrian’s founding of a foreign city and building a pagan shrine (or shrines) there. In the course of paraphrasing this passage, a later writer turned the situation into a theological confronta­tion between Hadrian and the Jewish God. This writer re-situated the pagan shrine, shifting it from the city in general to the Temple Mount in particular. Moreover, he painted a neutral act customary in the estab­lishment of a new colony in the harsh colors of a religious confrontation by using a “loaded” verb and referring to the temple by a name familiar to both Jewish and Christian readers.67

This conclusion extracts the historical barb from the story of the pagan shrine on the Temple Mount, and shows it to have been planted by a religiously motivated writer. (Eliav, 142f)

W’s view is that hopes for a rebuilt temple were dashed and that the author feared the war would end in defeat. If the fate of Jewish rebellions in the time of Trajan had not been warning enough, it appears that the fate of the Jewish rebels was sealed when Hadrian called Severus from Britain to suppress the uprising.

The historical reference of Rev 11:1-2a to the first phase of the Bar Kokhba revolt becomes even more conclusive if it is assumed that the decision to (re)found Jerusalem as the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina and, in connection with this, the decision to erect a pagan sanctuary there can be dated to the time immediately before the military escalation, i.e. around 130 AD. Then the statements of Rev 11:1-2a could be referred to these decisions of Hadrian without any problems: The apocalyptist is supposed to measure the temple, the θυσιαστήριον [= altar] and the people worshipping there for the purpose of rebuilding or reconstruction. (W, 306 – translation)

The prophecy of 11:2b that the nations will trample the city of Jerusalem underfoot, robbing it of its religious identity,

. . . corresponds entirely to the Hellenistic-imperial ideology propagated by Hadrian in the context of his visit to the province of Judea, which will ultimately win the day and leave no room for the continued existence of a more or less independent Judean state with a decidedly Old Testament Jewish religiosity inherent in and shaping it. (ibid)

The author wrote the Apocalypse soon after the outbreak of the Bar Kochba war. He used the future tense because he felt its doomed outcome to be inevitable.

A Contemporary Interpretation of the Two Witnesses (Rev 11:3-13)

If we read 11:3-13 against the events of the Second Jewish War the following scenario emerges: Continue reading “Revelation 11: Measuring the Temple and Two Witnesses – A Contemporary Interpretation”


2022-09-11

The Simon Bar Kochba Rebellion

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The types of the Bar Kokhba tetradrachms are eloquent: the Temple facade with the slogan “Jerusalem” is meant to replace the portrait and name of the Emperor (fig. 1, 1-2). On the reverse the palm branch and citrus fruit used during the Feast of the Tabernacles together with date and era are meant to replace the Roman pagan deity and accompanying Latin or Greek inscription. (Mildenberg, 325)

(Continuing the series outlining key points of Thomas Witulski’s case for a contemporary interpretation of the Book of Revelation: the two witnesses being Bar Kochba and Eleazar.)

Back to Josephus. Year 70 CE. The siege of Jerusalem.

Josephus writes that he had pleaded with his countrymen to give themselves up to the Romans and save their Temple. The zealots, led by John, despised his words. But many, including those of the upper classes, did choose to side with the Romans.

(111) As Josephus spoke thus, with groans and tears, his voice broke down with sobs. (112) Even the Romans were moved by his distress and admired his determination; but John’s men were the more incensed with the Romans and eager to get hold of Josephus. (113) However, many citizens of the upper class were moved by this address. Some of them were too frightened of the partisan guards to move, though they had given up themselves and the city for lost; but there were others who, watching their opportunity to escape, sought asylum with the Romans. (114) Among them were the high priests Joseph and Jesus and several sons of high priests, namely three sons of Ishmael who was beheaded in Cyrene, four of Mat­thias and one of another Matthias. This man had run away after the death of his father who had been murdered with three sons by Simon son of Giora, as explained above. Many other citizens of good family went over with the high priests. (115) Caesar received them with all possible kindness and, realizing that foreign customs would make life distasteful for them, he sent them to Gophna and ordered them to remain there for the time being; he even promised to return every man’s possessions as soon as he could after the war. (116) So they retired willingly and with complete confidence to the little town that was allotted to them . . .  (Jewish War, VI – Cornfeld edition)

If the above account can be trusted, it appears that many religious leaders and landowners sided with the Romans and retained or had their status and possessions returned to them at the end of the war.

. . . it does not seem unlikely that many of these “new settlers”, so useful and acceptable to the Romans, remained rooted in their new locations, becoming masters of properties whose original owners had either been slain, or taken prisoner, or had fled the country. (Alon, 63)

Others were not so fortunate:

Naturally, there were Jews whose land was confiscated outright by the Roman government itself. This was the treatment meted out to anyone suspected of anti-Roman activity. The process continued even after the fighting was over. After Vespasian had taken Beth Aris and Kfar Taba in “Idumaea”, having killed ten thousand in the process and captured one thousand Jews whom he sold as slaves, “he expelled the remainder and stationed in the district a large division of his own troops, who overran and devastated the whole of the hill country.” (Alon, 62)

and

The war thus brought in its train major changes in the distribution of land ownership through: 1) the loss of ownership-title by those who remained on the land, and who could thus be thrown off their property at a moment’s notice; 2) total confiscation from resisters and political undesirables; 3) government lease or grant to non-Jews . . . ; but occasionally as out-right grantees), who would then clear the Jewish inhabitants right off the land; and 4) simple transfer of title from Jewish to non-Jewish owners. (Alon, 63)

In a later rabbinic account we read a memory of those days:

One of the wealthiest men of Jerusalem before its destruction, Nakdimon b. Gorjon, most probably perished during the siege of the capital. After the catastrophe his daughter is found by R. Johanan b. Zakkai and his disciples starving and picking grains of barley from horses’ dung, and, when questioned by the rabbi, explained that the money of her father and her father-in-law was all gone. Such cases of utter impoverishment may have been numerous, while such as continued on their property may also have been many. (Büchler, 30)

But many Judeans were not opposed to Rome and only wanted peace. We have accounts of some of them attempting to undo the marks of circumcision — as well as some being re-circumcised when the rebellion broke out. A Sibylline oracle from Egypt’s Judeans praised Hadrian in quasi-Messianic language. Even rabbinic literature documents memories of Hadrian in positive terms. After 70 CE many Judeans did re-establish a religious life that can be interpreted as the formal beginning of rabbinical Judaism. See articles on Johanan ben Zakkai and related links. (Each of these points could be extended to a post of its own but I am trying to just skim along the highlights of W’s discussion.)

Still, Hadrian’s program ran into a diametrically opposing religious outlook of many other Judeans: Ezekiel 37 promised Israel would be freed from the gentile nations and submit only to God; God would be the one to protect and save them, not Hadrian.

For Thomas Witulski (Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand : eine zeitgeschichtliche Interpretation) it is important to see the visit (adventus) of Hadrian in the above context. The character of such a visit could quite conceivably have provoked an uprising of nationalist-religious Jews who were disadvantaged as a result of the impoverishing situation following the war with Vespasian and Titus. One can imagine the bitterness of these Judeans not only against the Romans but particularly against their compatriots who profited from Roman rule.

The Bar Kochba Rebellion

The coins and letters of Bar Kochba make it clear that Bar Kochba’s aim was the liberation of Judea from Rome. Coins were dated accordingly: Continue reading “The Simon Bar Kochba Rebellion”


2022-09-10

The Bar Kochba War – Background and Hadrian’s Visit to Judea

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Over 6 pages Thomas Witulski discusses the evidence for the dates of the Bar Kochba war and over 120 pages the evidence for its causes. I will distill that down to a few key points and conclusions.

Dates:

It is probable that the Bar Kokhba rebellion broke out openly in the spring or summer of 132 AD and that by the autumn of 135 AD it was, if not completely over, at least largely decided. (p. 184 — all quotations of Witulski are translations)

Causes:

W is not satisfied with many accounts that merely list a grab-bag of events from around that time with little effort to assess the evidence for them or submit them to methodical analysis to determine their likely role as “causes”. The grab-bag includes:

  • Hadrian decided to re-found Jerusalem as a Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina
  • Hadrian issued a ban on circumcision against the Jews
  • Hadrian had permitted the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple but then changed his mind and forbade it, leading to a violent reaction from disappointed Jews
  • Peasants in Palestine suffered severely from an oppressive tenancy system
  • The destruction of the temple in 70 CE had created a “nationalist” mood ready to respond violently against Rome
  • Jews were divided between those sympathetic to Hellenization and Roman rule and those opposed to it: the tensions between these parties led to the outbreak
  • Hadrian’s promotion of the religious-cultic worship of his boy-lover Antinous.

But how does one decide if any of the above (1) really existed or (2) actually sparked a violent response?

W thinks there must have been something else involved: Continue reading “The Bar Kochba War – Background and Hadrian’s Visit to Judea”


2022-09-05

Degenerations of Democracy

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

If you are like me and a little mystified about how we got to where we are today with increasing numbers actually deploring our traditional democratic systems, with more or our fellow citizens seemingly ignorant of how our system of government works, even of how society functions, and are just a wee bit concerned about where we are headed, you might find some clarifying explanation in Degenerations of Democracy by Craig Calhoun, Dilip Parameshwar Gaokar and Charles Taylor.

How did we get from the great hopes of the 1960s to here? Australian history, pre-World War I especially, was a dramatic social pioneering scene partly by the way obstacles were overcome. But I think future hopes held on and were reinvigorated with a new boost in the 60s and early 70s. But today I read the views of the elderly and of historians who say that today we face a social cynicism that was not even paralleled in the 1930s. I would like to think the new Australian government is doing something to restore a little hope with its consensus approach, but if so, it’s not going to change social attitudes overnight nor by itself. And we are just one corner of the world anyway.

I’ve begun reading Degenerations of Democracy (Introduction, Chapter 1 and part of the final “What is to be done” chapter) and it makes a lot of sense.

In chapter one Charles Taylor traces how and why there has been a decline in our (“us citizens'”) sense of power to change things by working or acting together to influence governments. The rot set in from the mid 1970s.

But that is only the first part of what has gone wrong. What stems from that sense of powerlessness, at least among large sectors of the population, is the age-old tendency to seek scape-goats, to identify those who need to be excluded because they are “not really part of us”. The immigrants, the indigenous populations, the elites. (Certain elites do share a good part of the blame, of course, especially those who own the media and those who run the global enterprises. But what is needed here is not the sending of those elites to the guillotine but a restructuring of “the system” and redistributing the wealth.) The point is, the sense of community is breaking down, or at least being redefined to exclude certain groups. That’s breaking up the very foundation on which a democracy survives. I liked Taylor’s explanation of the difference between Bernie Sanders’ populism and Donald Trump populism:

Now, a word about the term “populism.” There is more than one kind, with different political implications. Even in the 2016 election in the United States, the word was used to apply to two movements, represented by Bernie Sanders and by Donald Trump, respectively. One obvious meaning of the term applies when the “people,” in the sense of the demos or nonelites, are mobilized to erupt into a system that has been run without considering them; they are breaking down the walls, breaking down the doors, disturbing business as usual, demanding redress of grievance. But there is a very big difference between the Bernie and the Donald version: the Bernie version is truly inclusive; it’s not excluding anyone. One may not agree with the particular policies put forward; one may or may not be happy about this populist eruption. But Bernie Sanders’s program does not embrace the notion that precedence gives some citizens greater rights than others. This exclusionary feature is basic and, I think, absolutely fatal to the populist appeals of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders. It is both deeply divisive and in programmatic terms a dead-end.

Excerpt From: Craig Calhoun. “Degenerations of Democracy.” Apple Books.

And from the “decline of citizen efficacy” through “waves of exclusion” we arrive at the final killer: polarization. When we insist on democracy meaning “the rule of a majority” without any care for the community as a whole we run into a serious and dire situation. When “majorities” take on definitions that exclude any interest in the welfare of others; when members of self-defined “majorities” say “you” would join them too when you “wake up” and “see” what they see; and when “majorities” insist that they have a need to rule in perpetuity in order to safeguard “civilization”, “white culture”, . . .  being blind to the fact that in a large society the needs of different groups change and realignments and new priorities are always going to be part of a democracy’s life.

It’s a long read. I’ll be dabbling in it on and off over some time. But I’ve already been thinking a lot about what I have read so far and trying to see if I can make better sense of what has happened “to us” and why the world has not turned out the way we had expected some decades ago. I’ve already jumped to the “What Is To Be Done” chapter at the end.

 


2022-09-03

Viruses, DNA – Close Up 1+ Million Times

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

View the beautiful, scientifically accurate molecular visualisations of the ten most important human viruses, magnified one million times . . .

Drew Berry is a cell biologist and biomedical animator who creates beautiful, accurate visualizations of the dramatic cellular and molecular action that is going on inside our bodies. Since 1995 he has led biomedical animation within WEHI, Australia. His has exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, the Royal Institute of Great Britain and the University of Geneva.

WEHI.TV explains discoveries at the frontier of medical research through accurate and entertaining 3D animations. It answers the ever-growing demand for meaningful and engaging information on complex bodily topics.

 

Interview with Dave Berry: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-art-show/drew-berry-natalya-hughes-drawing/14032604


2022-09-02

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part D

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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. Continue reading “The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part D”


2022-08-29

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part C

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

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. — Revelation 11:11-13 (KJ21)
For newcomers to this series, we are discussing Thomas Witulski’s work, Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand : eine zeitgeschichtliche Interpretation, in which he sets out an argument for Revelation 11 (the command to measure the temple and the two witnesses) being references to the events of the Bar Kochba war of 130-135 CE. All posts are archived at Revelation and Witulski – Revelation 11 and the Bar Kochba Revolt Other posts on Witulski’s views are archived at Witulski – Revelation of John and Emperor Hadrian and Witulski – The Four Horsemen of Revelation 6 See also Book of Revelation

Here we come to a dramatic turning point in the narrative (including a change of tense). Whose is the “great voice from Heaven” that calls out “Come up here”? We are not told. Even the phrase “spirit of life from God” does not mean that God raised up the two martyrs but only that it was God’s spirit that entered into them: the author uses a different expression when he wants to convey the idea of God directly acting. Who, exactly,  “saw them” and reacted in fear is also left vague.

Readers who think the two witnesses are a kind of latter-day Moses figure run into the problem that there was no Jewish tradition — neither biblical nor in Josephus nor Philo — that Moses was bodily resurrected.

One would presume that the voice from heaven was God speaking but that interpretation is not certain. Revelation refers to other heavenly voices that do not belong to God.

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.

Wikimedia Commons

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.

Such are the difficulties that concern us but we must ask if they would also have troubled the original readers. Would the first audiences have understood exactly who and what was being described?

Sit back (or forward if you prefer to concentrate) and observe the following case for Revelation‘s two witnesses being an adaptation of another Jewish source document. And prepare to meet a new character in one of the stories, the virgin Tabitha who gruesomely has her blood sucked from her.

After this journey we will return to the above resurrection and ascension passage and examine it afresh.

Analysis of Revelation 11:3-13

The first question Thomas Witulski [W] explores is whether the author was creating a new narrative entirely from his imagination or whether he was re-working a “tradition” known to him. To answer that question W compares 11:3-13 with two similar accounts: the Apocalypse of Elijah and a chapter by the church father Lactantius in Divine Institutes. Can these works be shown to depend on Revelation 11 or do they indicate the existence of an earlier account that we can say was also available to the author of Revelation?

Apocalypse of Elijah (see the earlywritings site for views on date and provenance: W notes it belongs to the second half of the third century CE)

The relevant passage:

My blood [that is the blood of an earlier mentioned virgin named Tabitha] you have thrown on the temple has become the salvation of the people.

Then, when Elijah and Enoch hear that the Shameless One has appeared in the holy place, they will come down to fight against him, saying,

The Shameless One will hear and be furious, and he will fight with them in the market-place of the great city; and he will spend seven days fighting with them. And they will lie dead in the market-place for three and a half days; and all the people will see them. But on the fourth day they will arise and reproach him, saying

The Shameless One will hear and be furious and fight with them; and the whole city will gather round them. On that day they will shout aloud to heaven, shining like the stars, and all the people and the whole world will see them. The Son of Lawlessness will not prevail over them. 

He will vent his fury on the land

(From The Apocryphal Old Testament edited by H.F.D. Sparks)

In both accounts: Continue reading “The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part C”


2022-08-21

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part B

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks, standing before the Lord of the earth. (Rev 11:4)

The above identification of the two witnesses draws upon the imagery in Zechariah 4:

1 And the angel who talked with me came again and waked me, as a man who is wakened out of his sleep,

2 and said unto me, “What seest thou?” And I said, “I have looked and behold, a candlestick all of gold with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps which are upon the top thereof;

3 and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.”

4 So I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, “What are these, my lord?”

5 Then the angel who talked with me answered and said unto me, “Knowest thou not what these be?” And I said, “No, my lord.”

6 Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ saith the Lord of hosts.

7 Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain; and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, ‘Grace, grace unto it!’”

8 Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it. And thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you.

10 For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven. They are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.”

11 Then answered I and said unto him, “What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?”

12 And I answered again and said unto him, “What be these two olive branches, which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?”

13 And he answered me and said, “Knowest thou not what these be?” And I said, “No, my lord.”

14 Then said he, “These are the two anointed ones, who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

The two anointed ones in Zechariah are the political leader, Zerubbabel, and the high priest, Joshua.

Thomas Witulski addresses the various interpretations of the two olive trees and two candlesticks in Revelation that are found in the commentaries and concludes that the author meant to depict two historical persons (as opposed, for example, to representatives of Christianity), but that he also did not want them to be understood as spiritual heirs of Zerubbabel and Joshua.

“Witnesses” is possibly a misleading translation in the context of Revelation 11. It suggests persons who offer a testimony, or carry a message. But the one thing lacking in Rev 11 is any indication of a message proclaimed by these two μάρτυσίν. A better translation might be “martyrs”.

Zerubbabel and Joshua were symbolized by two branches of the olive tree and were not represented in any way by the candlestick. The two witnesses [μάρτυσίν], in contrast, were symbolized by both two candlesticks and two olive trees (not branches). In Zechariah, there is a clear distinction between the candlestick and the olive trees but in Revelation 11 the two images are united as the two μάρτυσίν.

Of particular significance is that Revelation notably avoids using the title of “anointed ones” that is assigned to Zerubbabel and Joshua. Even though in Revelation we read a partial quotation of Zechariah 4:14, we see that the two μάρτυσίν are not allowed a title of special anointing. For Christians, after all, there was only one anointed one, Jesus Christ. The two μάρτυσίν have no such spiritual title. Further, from what we know of early Christianity, it is unlikely that outstanding status would have been given to any members since in a sense all Christians were “priests and kings”, and there were many prophets among them.

Nor does the apocalyptist of Revelation link the two μάρτυσίν with plans to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. One might have expected such an association given that Revelation 11 begins with a commission to measure a temple and Zechariah has a strong focus on the role of Zerubbabel and Joshua in the building of the second temple.

So why does Revelation cast the two μάρτυσίν as two olive trees and two candlesticks if they are not “anointed ones” and are not engaged in a rebuilding of the temple — and, as we saw in the previous post (part A), are apparently commissioned by a heavenly being of a lesser status than the one commissioning the author John? Witulski’s view is that the author of Revelation was working very freely with a prophetic tradition based on Zechariah where the two leaders of Israel, the political and priestly heads, were represented by two candlesticks and two olive trees.

Moses and Elijah?

The powers attributed to the two μάρτυσίν bring to mind the miracles of Moses and Elijah. However, both of the μάρτυσίν are said to wield these powers so it is unlikely that they are meant to represent the two OT heroes. Elsewhere in both the OT and Jewish writings some of these powers are described quite independently of associations with Moses and Elijah (e.g. 1 Kings 8:35; 1 Sam 4:8). 

Confrontation with political enemies

Continue reading “The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 – part B”

%d bloggers like this: