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: Continue reading “The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 4”


The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 3

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by Neil Godfrey

Thomas Witulski

So where does the comparison we set out in the previous post lead us?

Revelation 17:9 This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.


The comparison of the account in Rev 17:10 with the quoted texts from 4Esr 11f and Sib V raises the question whether the apocalypticist here in Rev 17:10 was at all concerned with the fact that his readers can refer the five “fallen” kings, the sixth who reigns at the time of the writing of the Apk, and the seventh who has not yet taken up the reign but apparently will do so soon and must then reign, to historical persons and assign them to certain emperors. The apparent vagueness in the account in Rev 17:10f suggests that the apocalypticist did not intend the assignment of the seven or eight βασιλείς to specific Roman rulers. (p. 328, translation)

He is not alone. From Aune’s commentary (p. 948):

Some have maintained, I think correctly, that John is not referring to seven specific kings; rather he is using the number seven as an apocalyptic symbol, a view that has become increasingly popular among scholars (Beckwith, 704-8; Kiddle-Ross, 350-51; Lohmeyer, 143; Beasley-Murray, 256-57; Caird, 218-19; Lohse, 95; Guthrie, Introduction, 959; Mounce, 315; Sweet, 257; Harrington, 172; Giblin, 164-65; Talbert, 81). For several reasons, the symbolic rather than the historical approach to interpreting the seven kings is convincing.

(a) Seven, a symbolic number widely used in the ancient world, occurs fifty-three times in Revelation to reflect the divine arrangement and design of history and the cosmos. The enumeration of just seven kings, therefore, suggests the propriety of a symbolic rather than a historical interpretation,

(b) The seven heads of the beast, first interpreted as seven hills and then as seven kings, is based on the archaic mythic tradition of the seven-headed dragon widely known in the ancient world (see Comment on 12:3). Since the author is working with traditional material, this again suggests that precisely seven kings should be interpreted symbolically,

(c) Rome, founded in 753 b.c. according to Varro (several alternate dates are suggested by other ancient authors), was an Etruscan monarchy until the expulsion of the last Etruscan king, Tarquinius Superbus, in 508 b.c. From the perspective of canonical Roman tradition, there were exactly seven kings in all: Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Marcus, Tarquinus Priscus, Servius Tullius (the only king of Latin origin), and Tarquinius Superbus (though it is true that Lars Porsenna, the Etruscan king of Clusium, controlled Rome briefly after the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus [Tacitus Hist. 3.72; Pliny Hist. nat. 34.139]). While there were probably more than seven historical kings (Momigliano, CAH7/2:96), Roman and Etruscan historians identified minor figures with major ones to maintain the canonical number. The number seven was referred to frequently in that connection (Appian Bell. civ. praef. 14; bk. 1, frag. 2; a magical prayer in Demotic found in PDM XIV.299 is addressed to the seven kings, though what this means is impossible to say). There is also occasional reference to the seven archons who rule the seven planetary spheres (the sun, the moon, and five planets) as kings (Ap.John II/1 11.4-6).

Beckwith (704-708): Continue reading “The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 3”


The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 2

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by Neil Godfrey

The question to which Roman emperors the κεφαλαι ἑπτά [=seven heads] are to be referred has been and continues to be the subject of extraordinary controversy among scholars.  This is not least due to the fact that the apocalypticist does not give his readers any real clue regarding the historical attribution of the [emperors] in the enigma Rev 17:10, unlike, for example, the author of 4Esr 11f and the author of Sib V 12-51. (Witulski, 326)

“Does not give the readers any real clue”? Let’s read the [not real] clues:

17: 9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

We saw in the previous post that “seven kings” means “seven emperors”. Five “are fallen”. The verb επεσαν (a form of πίπτειν) suggests a violent death. W. cites Lohmeyer, 

. . .  und επεσαν als „sie starben“ zu fassen, ist sprachlich und sachlich unmöglich. = and to take επεσαν as “they died” is linguistically and factually impossible. (Lohmeyer, 141)

and Aune,

10a οί πέντε έπεσαν, ό εις έστιν, ό άλλος ούπω ήλθεν, “of whom five have fallen, one is living, the other has not yet come.” έπεσαν, “have fallen” (from πίπτειν, “to fall”), does not simply mean “died” but carries the connotation of being overthrown or being killed violently (Lohmeyer, 143; Strobel, ATTS 10 [1963-64] 439). “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 (Exod 32:28; 1 Sam4:10; 2 Sam 1:19,25,27; 3:38; 21:22; Job 14:10 [LXX only]; 1 Chr 5:10; 20:8; 1 Macc 3:24; 4:15, 34; 2 Macc 12:34; Jdt 7:11; Gk. 1 Enoch 14:6; 1 Cor 10:18; Barn. 12:5; Iliad 8.67, 10.200; 11.157, 500; Xenophon Cyr. 1.4.24; Herodotus 9.67; see Louw-Nida, § 23.105) . . . .

Many of the Roman emperors died violent deaths: Julius Caesar was assassinated by being stabbed twenty-three times (Plutarch Caesar 66.4-14; Suetonius Julius 82; Dio Cassius 44.19.1-5); Caligula was stabbed repeatedly with swords (Suetonius Caligula 58; Tacitus Annals 11.29; Jos. Ant. 19.104—113; Dio Cassius 59.29.4-7; Seneca Dial. 2.18.3; 4.7); Claudius was poisoned (Suetonius Claudius 44-45; Tacitus Annals 12.66-67; 14.63; Pliny Hist. nat. 2.92; 11.189; 22.92); Nero committed suicide (Suetonius Nero 49; Jos. J. W. 4.493); Galba was stabbed to death by many using swords, decapitated, and his corpse mutilated (Tacitus Hist. 1.41.2; Plutarch Galba 27); Otho committed suicide with a dagger (Plutarch Otho 17; Suetonius Otho 11); Vitellius was beaten to death (Suetonius Vit. 17-18; Tacitus Hist. 3.84-85; Jos. J.W. 4.645; Cassius Dio 64.20.1-21.2); and Domitian was assassinated with a dagger (Suetonius Dom 18). (Aune, 949 – my bolded highlighting in all quotations)

W. adds Strobel as another witness:

1. Caligula (-41 AD). Assassinated.

2. Claudius (-54 AD). Poisoned.

3. Nero (-68 AD). Suicide.

4. Vespasian (-79 AD). Died of a fever [Suetonius Vesp. 24.8].  Later, the rumour spread of his poisoning by Titus [Dio Cassius lxvi, 17. . . ].

5 Titus (-81 AD). Died of a fever [Suetonius, Tit. 10]. The suddenness of his death also gave rise to the rumour that he had been violently assassinated [10 Allegedly at the instigation of his brother Domitian. On the matter cf. Paulys R .E . VI, Sp. 2722.].

(Strobel, 439)

So that makes ten, not five, having “fallen”.

But return to where I left off in the last post. We were about to compare Revelation with other apocalyptic literature of the time: 4 Ezra and the Sibylline Oracle V.

The point W. makes is that both of those texts offer the reader numerous clues on how to interpret the metaphorical imagery.

In contrast, the 4Esr 11f surviving eagle vision and its interpretation, for example, offers numerous clues to the identification of the Roman emperors meant in each case. However, for all the literary-critical and redactional-historical problems that this text may raise, it is undisputed among scholars that the second wing, which reigns longer than any of the others, is Augustus, and the three heads are the Flavian emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. This makes it possible to relate a large part of the other wings listed in the vision to Roman emperors or rebellious princes and troop leaders. This unanimity among exegetes, as can be seen in the interpretation of the eagle vision 4Esr 11f is lacking in view of the interpretation of Apk 17:10f, precisely because in these verses the apocalypticist offers no clear indications of the historical classification of the seven or eight βασιλείς.

(Witulski, 327)

The same assessment is made in relation to the Sibylline Oracle V,

Even within the discussion of the individual Roman emperors from Julius Caesar to Hadrian’s adopted sons in Sib V 12-51, there are sufficiently clear references in each case to allow readers to clearly identify the individual emperors.

Compare 4 Ezra 11. Although the identifications of many of the details are open to dispute, there is enough description provided for readers to have little doubt about the identity of Augustus being the second ruler after Julius Caesar (the second wing who reigned for a very long time) and again, enough details are offered to enable readers to identify Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian (three heads, after the death of the first, one of the remaining two “devoured” the other — as Domitian was rumoured to have killed Titus),

11:1 On the second night I had a dream, and, behold, there came up from the sea an eagle, which had twelve feathered wings, and three heads.
11:2 And I saw, and, behold, she spread her wings over all the earth . . . 

1:12 And I looked, and, behold, on the right side there arose one feather, and reigned over all the earth;
11:13 And so it was, that when it reigned, the end of it came, and the place thereof appeared no more: so the next wing following stood up, and reigned, and had a long reign . . .
[Augustus ruled longer than any other emperor]

11:29 And when they were planning, behold, there awakened one of the heads that were at rest, namely, the one that was in the middle; for that was greater than the other two heads.
11:30 And I saw how it allied the two heads with itself . . . .

11:32 Moreover this middle head gained control of the whole earth [Vespasian], and with much oppression dominated its inhabitants; and it had greater power over the world than all the wings that had gone before.
11:33 And after this I looked, and behold, the middle head suddenly disappeared and was no more, just as the wings had done.
11:34 But there remained the two heads, which also ruled over the earth and its inhabitants.
11:35 And I looked, and behold, the head upon the right side devoured the one that was upon the left side. [Domitian thought to have assassinated Titus]

Similarly with the Sibylline Oracle V, 10-50:

. . . after the man of the race and blood of Assaracus, who came from Troy, and broke through the raging fire, and after many kings and warlike men, and after the babes whom the wolf took for her nurslings, shall come a king first of all, the first letter of whose name shall sum twice ten [twice ten = K, Caesar]; he shall prevail greatly in war : and for his first sign he shall have the number ten [ten = I, i.e. I/Julius];

so that after him shall rule one who has the first letter as his initial [first letter =A, i.e. Augustus]; before whom Thrace shall cower [battle at Philippi, 42 B.C.] and Sicily [defeat of Pompey’s son who had controlled Sicily with his fleet], then Memphis, Memphis brought low by the fault of her leaders, and of a woman undaunted [i.e. Cleopatra], who fell on the wave (by the spear ?). He shall give laws to the peoples and bring all into subjection, and after a long time shall hand on his kingship to one who shall have the number three hundred for his first letter [300 = T, Tiberius], and a name well known from a river [= Tiber River], whose sway shall reach to the Persians and Babylon : and he shall smite the Medes with the spear.

Then shall rule one whose name-letter is the number three [3 = G, Gaius] ; then one whose initial is twenty [20 = K, i.e. Claudius]: he shall reach the furthest ebb of Ocean’s tide [i.e. Britain], swiftly travelling with his Ausonian company. Then one with the letter fifty shall be king [50 = N, i.e. Nero], a fell dragon breathing out grievous war [i.e. war against the Jews from 66 CE], who shall lift his hand against his own people to slay them, and shall spread confusion, playing the athlete, charioteer, assassin, a man of many ill-deeds [Nero participated in chariot races, assassinated his mother and others]; he shall cut through the mountain between two seas and stain it with blood [isthmus canal of Corinth, 6000 Jewish slaves sent to work on it]; yet he shall vanish to destruction (?) ; then he shall return, making himself equal to God : but God shall reveal his nothingness.

Three kings after him shall perish at each other’s hand [civil war and successive emperors Galba, Otho, Vitellius]; then shall come a great destroyer of the godly, whom the number seventy plainly shows [70 = O, Vespasian, in Greek, Ούεσπασιανός]. His son, revealed by the number three hundred [300 = T, Titus], shall take away his power [Rumour was that Titus poisoned his father]. After him shall rule a devouring tyrant, marked by the letter four [4 = D, Domitian], and then a venerable man, by number fifty [50 = N, the aged Nerva who reduced harsh penalties on Jews] :

but after him one to whom falls the initial sign three hundred, a Celt, ranging the mountains [300 = T, Trajan, from Spain, conquered mountainous Armenia], but hastening to the clash of conflict he shall not escape an unseemly doom, but shall fall ; the dust of a strange land shall cover him in death, a land named from the Nemean flower. Following him a silver-haired king shall reign : his name is that of a sea [Hadrian, cf Adriatic Sea]; he shall be a man of excellence and all discernment. . . . [written before the Bar Kochba war at a time when it was hoped he would restore the temple?]

Contrast the seven kings in Revelation 17. Readers are left guessing without sufficient clues to identify any of them with certainty. Here is Strobel’s summary of the problem (translated from the German):

If we begin the ‘five’ with Augustus and ignore the interregnum emperors, the ‘one’ is Vespasian (69-79) and the ‘other’, who may only remain for a ‘short time’, is Titus (79-81). If we count from Caesar onwards, Nero would be the ‘one’, currently reigning emperor (54-68) and Vespasian the ‘other’, who nevertheless held the throne for 11 years. If we include the interregnum emperors (beginning with Augustus), a writing under Galba in particular suggests itself as the ‘One’ who is. He still ruled from Jun 68 to January 69 and also found some recognition in the Orient. . . .  In addition, one also remembers those early church testimonies which claim to know of a death of the apocalypticist under Nero or of a death of the Zebedaid John in the years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Insofar as the undoubtedly important old Christian tradition of a writing under Domitian is considered relevant, one considers the processing of a source originating from the time of Vespasian . . . (433f)

A remarkable solution, despite its idiosyncrasy, is offered by E. B. Allo among the modern interpreters. Beginning the count with Nero without sufficient reasons and including at least two of the three intermediate emperors, he succeeds in proving Domitian to be the ‘one’. . . . (436)

But why not begin the count with Tiberius? The rationale for this starting point is that it marks the crucifixion of Jesus and hence the “real” turning point of history:

His imagined point in world history is neither the beginnings of the Principate nor the rebirth of Rome in the golden, Augustan age, of which Virgil, for example, sings. Rather, it is unquestionably identical with the term of the cross and the exaltation of Christ as ‘Lord of lords’ under Tiberius. In other words: for the apocalypticist, the cross and the exaltation signify the telos of the old aeon in an eminently historical sense . . . . (437)

But no, there is even a reason to exclude Tiberius and begin with Gaius Caligula:

. . .  the Roman emperors after Tiberius are typical representatives of the final anti-Christian phase of world history. Tiberius, whose reign began long before the appearance of Christ (= 14 A.D.), was naturally not included in the series of ‘anti-Christian’ emperors who had risen since the Messiah. The exclusively post-teleological aspect necessarily led to the restriction to those emperors who came to power only after Christ. They were introduced by Caligula. . . .  since the apocalypticist undoubtedly had in mind only the Roman emperors of the post-Messianic period. (440)

No doubt there are other starting points, omissions and inclusions, that can only add to the confusion or at least to the uncertainty of any proposal that attempts to align the heads with a sequence of historical emperors.

So why is the author of Revelation so opaque? So indecipherable in relation to the history of the Roman emperors?


Aune, David E. Revelation 17-22. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 52C. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1998.

Bate, Herbert N., trans. The Sibylline Oracles, Books III-V. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1918. http://archive.org/details/sibyllineoracles00bateiala.

Lohmeyer, E. Die Offenbarung des Johannes. Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (P. Siebeck), 1926. http://archive.org/details/dieoffenbarungde0000unse_n5x5.

Strobel, A. “Abfassung Und Geschichts Theologie Der Apokalypse Nach Kap. XVII. 9–12.” New Testament Studies 10, no. 4 (July 1964): 433–45. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688500001880.

Witulski, Thomas. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007.




The 7 Kings of Revelation 17 — part 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Thomas Witulski steers the reader from Rev 13 back to the letters to the seven churches to demonstrate what was facing the various churches at the time of Hadrian. But since the question of how W. interprets the seven heads, five fallen, one is, etc. has arisen, I have chosen to skip ahead to W’s analysis of chapter 17. But I’ll cover it in a series of small posts, one bite/byte at a time. That gives me the opportunity to consult the various citations and any additional material of relevance as I go.

Revelation 17:1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” 3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. . . . .

9 This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

In Revelation 17 we read of “the great whore”, interpreted in verse 18 as the city of Rome, sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, and having seven heads and ten horns.

. . . and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, and having seven heads and ten horns

The seven heads of that beast are interpreted as the legendary seven hills of Rome:

17:9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth.

But there is a double meaning because the next verse points to seven kings:

17:10 And there are seven kings

Kings are not necessarily emperors but the word here for kings, βασιλείς, was used for emperors by the time of Hadrian: 

The term βασιλείς, usually translated “kings,” and the most elevated tide of Hellenistic monarchs, can equally well be translated “emperors.” However, βασιλεύς is not widely used as a Greek translation of the Latin term imperator, “emperor,” until the second century A.D.  — (Aune, 946 — quoted in part by W., 323).

In the above quotation, Aune is referencing Greek Terms for Roman Institutions: A Lexicon and Analysis by Mason. Here is the more complete account by Mason:

By the second century A.D., αύτοκράτωρ as a general word for “emperor” came under challenge, especially in literary works, from βασιλεύς. Although Dio, for example, always used αύηοκράτωρ and never βασιλεύς, in other writers both terms are used indiscriminately, as in a phrase in Philostratus (VS 1.24 fin.), Άδριανός αντοκράτωρ . . . enιτηδειότατος των βασιλέων. Both words are found in such authors as Appian, Aristides, Dio Chrysostom, Galen, Herodian and Lucian. . . . .

βασιλεύς is applied to the emperor in verse as early as the time of Augustus, in a poem of Antipater of Thessaly (AP 10.25). But in prose, βασιλεύς is not employed before the second century. . . .

But derivatives of βασιλεύς are in use by the time of Plutarch, βασιλεύω occurs in the case of Vespasian ([Plu.] Amatorius 25.771), βασιλικός is used for the gardens of Lucullus (Plu. Lucull. 39.518). Josephus twice employs βασιλειάω to describe would-be emperors (BJ 1.5, 4.546), and speaks of the βασιλεία of Vespasian (BJ 5.409).

βασιλεύς and related words begin to occur in inscriptions, though not yet in formal titulature, about the time of Hadrian. Notable examples are a dedication to Σαβεινα βασίλισσα from Megara (IC 7.73), a decree of the Panhellenes dated to 131-138 A.D. which reads (line 9): [π]ό re βασιλέων αίιτοκρατόρων and a dedication naming Hadrian δεσπότης βασιλεύς Επιφανέστατος νεός ‘Ασκληπιός (IGRom. 4.341). (Mason, 119f)

Most easy to follow, however, is Roloff’s comment:

Two quite different interpretations are given for the seven heads of the beast (v.9b-ll). The first equates the heads with seven mountains and thus refers to Rome, the capital city situated on the famous seven hills. The sitting of the harlot on the hills is a striking image for the fact that the city of Rome is the centre and power centre of the empire.  The second interpretation equates the heads with “kings”. This can only mean Emperors, for in the East of the Empire “king” was the common name for the emperor (cf. 1 Pet 2:13-17; 1 Tim 2:2). – (Roloff, translation from pp. 169f)


The author of Revelation in this chapter places the time of his writing during the reign of the sixth emperor.

And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other has not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

“he is the eighth and is one of the seven and is headed for destruction.” . . . . There is widespread agreement that this king does indeed represent Nero and reflects the Nero redivivus legend . . . .  The symbolic significance of the number eight is relevant since the beast is called the “eighth.” In early Judaism and early Christianity, eight has eschatological significance since it represents the eighth day of the new creation after the seven days of the old creation have concluded (2Enoch 33:1-2; Bam. 15:9), and Sunday in early Christian tradition is occasionally called the eighth day (Barn. 15:9; Justin Dial. 24.1; 41.4; 138.1; see Bauckham, “Nero,” 396-97). . . . — Aune, p. 950

The final beast to arise, the one to be destroyed in the final cosmic battle, is the eighth — which, curiously, is said to have once before ruled in the past.

And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, yet is one of the seven and goeth into perdition.

We met this eighth beast, the one to arise in the end time, in chapter 13. We have seen the reasons for believing that the author intended readers to interpret that beast, Hadrian, as the restored Nero from the past. There, however, the author spoke of that beast in the present tense while in chapter 17 he is said to yet come.

The apocalyptic visionary is caught in a bind. While in chapter 13 he spoke of the end-time beast as present and known to his readers, in chapter 17 he strives to claim he belongs to the prophetic future. We will return to this back-dating in a later post.

W. observes another comparison between the two descriptions of 13 and 17. In both chapters, the visionary begins by presenting a figure representing the Roman empire as a whole (13: the seven-headed beast arises from the sea; 17: a woman riding the seven-headed beast thus signifying their unity as the one empire) but in each case narrows the focus so that we come to read of an individual emperor.

What do we make of the ten horns?

Here the ten kings represent Roman client kings. Roman generals in the Greek east, particularly Pompey and Antony, developed an elaborate system of client kingship. Various kings and dynasts were sanctioned or elevated in order to serve as an inexpensive and effective means for controlling their regions, some of which were reorganized as provinces. – Aune, p. 951

The ten horns, following Dan. 7,24, are interpreted as ten kings (v. 12-14). These are not . . . Roman emperors, but vassal kings, or more precisely: political leaders and rulers who initially do not yet have kingship, but who receive it together with the beast, i.e. Nero redivivus, because they support him and place their power and influence at his disposal. We are dealing here with a variant of the idea of 16,14, according to which the beast wins the kings of the earth circle as comrades-in-arms for his goals through the demonic art of seduction. . . . Of course, the helpers of the beast will only have power “for an hour”, i.e. only for a very short time, because Jesus will defeat them.  – Roloff, translation of p. 171

Some scholars have thought otherwise and interpreted the ten horns as ten Roman emperors. W. disputes this view. Though in Daniel 7 the number 10 may be applied to supreme kings, it is evident that the author of Revelation creatively modified the various sources that he drew upon. We cannot assume that the interpretation in Daniel 7 should apply to Revelation. The same principle applies to another possible apocalypse known to the author of Revelation, 4 Ezra 11.  In 4Ezra the 12 wings are explicitly stated to be the 12 Roman emperors. In Revelation one reads that the seven heads are clearly seven emperors so we should not interpret the ten kings as ten Roman emperors.

We have begun here to compare Revelation with other apocalyptic writings of the time. I’ll go into details in the next post.

Aune, David E. Revelation 17-22. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 52C. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998.

Mason, Hugh J. Greek Terms for Roman Institutions: A Lexicon and Analysis. Toronto: Hakkert, 1974. https://archive.org/details/greektermsforrom0013maso

Roloff, Jürgen. Die Offenbarung des Johannes. Zürich : Theologischer Verlag, 1984. http://archive.org/details/dieoffenbarungde0000rolo.

Witulski, Thomas. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007.


666 : Hadrian as Nero Redivivus

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by Neil Godfrey

There was one little detail I forgot to add in my earlier post: Hadrian as Nero Redivivus. I set out the ways Hadrian emulated the popular Nero but a commenter has brought to my attention that I have not yet explained the 666 link between Hadrian and Nero that the author of Revelation called on readers to identify and reflect upon.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666. — Revelation 13:18

Now everyone knows the name of “the man” Nero equals 666. Some manuscripts make his number equal 616. (See the linked article for details.)

But Revelation 13 speaks of a revival of the beast, a healed head-wound — a “second Nero” — if you will. Recall from our earlier post Corssen’s words:

So the apocalypticist says: the number of the name of the beast is the number of a human name. Does he mean to say: the name of the beast is the name of a human being, it is not an animal at all, but a human being, of whom I have so far only spoken allegorically as of an animal? That is the opinion of many commentators. But number and name are not necessarily identical, the same sum can consist of completely different summands and so the same number can give rise to different names.

When the apocalypticist says: “He who has understanding, calculate the number of the beast,” this is an impossible demand. For this calculation cannot be carried out without knowledge of the name. But in the demand lies the prerequisite that the animal as such has a name. If then the apocalypticist gives the number himself, which even the most intelligent could not have found in this way, it follows that the cleverness demanded does not consist in finding the tacitly presupposed name of the beast, but in deriving from its numerical value the name of a man of the same numerical value. In other words : the animal has a name x = 666, but 666 is equal to the name of a man, both names are, as it was called, ίςόψηφα [=isopsephy]. Thus the γάρ in άριθμός γάρ ανθρώπου ἐστίν [=it is the number of a man] comes to its meaning: one should calculate the number of the beast to find the equivalent name of the man.

(Noch einmal die Zahl des Tieres in der Apokalypse, p. 240, own translation and bolding. Cited by Witulski, p. 183)

With that in mind, notice that Hadrian’s name amounts to the same number as Nero’s:

The interpretation of the number 666 (Rev 13:18) on Hadrian was already considered by D. Voelter, [In his book published in 1885: Die Entstehung der Apokalypse] who adds the letters of the written Hebrew and on coins documented  name Trajanus Hadrianus as 666: “Hadrian officially carries as emperor on coins and inscriptions the name Trajanus Hadrianus. If now these names are written in Hebrew and the individual letters are converted into the corresponding numerical value, then exactly the number 666 comes out:

Now another Hebrew name form for Trajan is

If one puts this name form together with the name אדרינום and sums up the numerical values 285 + 331, then one receives that other number 616 handed down by Irenaeus. 

So that would explain the comment by Irenaeus that some manuscripts claimed the number 616 instead of 666.

Thus, both the Hebrew-spelled name of the reigning emperor Hadrian and the Hebrew-spelled name of the figure of Nero redivus, קסר נתרן, can be calculated from the number 666, consistent with the isopsephic approach evidently underlying Rev 13:18. Thus, the apocalypticist implicitly identifies the currently reigning princeps Hadrian in Rev 13:18 with the figure of Nero redivivus and can at the same time prove to his addressees that in the figure of this emperor the expected Nero redivivus has truly appeared. (Die Johannesoffenbarung, p. 52 – translated)

Witulski, Thomas. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007.

Revelation’s Second Beast, the False Prophet

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by Neil Godfrey

Polemon (Polemo)

Revelation 13:11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

Thomas Witulski identifies this other beast that arises from the earth with the sophist Antonius Polemon. We introduced him in the post on emperor worship and Revelation. We know about him today from his own writings, from his ancient biographer Philostratus and from various inscriptions in Smyrna and Pergamon. Polemon was the descendant of the last king of Pontus, Polemon II. He trained as a sophist and rhetorician in Smyrna, became a diplomatic envoy on behalf of Smyrna in Rome, taught rhetoric himself and sometimes acted as a court orator. His school for rhetoric attracted some fame for his city and youth from Asia, Europe and the islands crowded Smyrna to learn from him. He was made a guardian of temples and a priest of Bacchus (Dionysus) and made head of the running of the games in honour of “Hadrian Olympus”. He accompanied Hadrian on his journeys through Asia and appears to have acted as a highly valued and influential advisor to the emperor.

Revelation 13:12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.

The author of the apocalypse introduces him as a speaker in the service of the first beast. The classicist G. W. Bowersock wrote of Polemon’s renown:

Hadrian, another admirer of Polemo, extended that privilege [of free travel wherever he wished] to the sophist’s posterity and added others; his great-grandson, Hermocrates, is found fully equipped with privileges of all sorts. Hadrian’s relations with Polemo are well illustrated by the emperor’s own admission that his final statement on the affairs of the whole empire (a breviarium totius imperii, one supposes) was prepared with Polemo’s advice. Nor is this the only indication of Hadrian’s regard: his invitation to that sophist to deliver the oration at the consecration of the Olympieum at Athens was perhaps an embarrassing repudiation of the obvious person for the occasion, Herodes Atticus. Polemo’s enemies at Smyrna had once tried to compromise him by allegations that he was spending on himself funds transmitted by the emperor for the good of the city, but Hadrian replied firmly with a letter declaring that Polemo had rendered him an account of the moneys which he had given the city. Not that the great sophist did not spend extravagantly for his own ostentation. He could be seen travelling along the roads of Asia in a chariot with silver bridles and an elaborate entourage of pack-animals, horses, slaves, and dogs. But Philostratus rightly observed that such a display gave lustre to a city no less than a fine agora or a splendid array of buildings, ‘for not only does a city give a man renown, but a city itself acquires it from a man’. (Bowersock, 48)

Witulski writes in Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian, p. 228,

Moreover, it is quite likely that Polemon, in his festive speech on the occasion of the consecration of the sanctuary of the Zeus Olympus in Athens, to some extent as a replica of Hadrian’s favour, possibly also previously coordinated with the latter, called for altars dedicated to Hadrian Olympus to be erected in private homes in the cities and areas around the Aegean. Numerous evidences can be cited for these altars in the provinces of Achaea, Macedonia, Thracia, and especially Asia. (my own machine assisted translations of all Witulski quotes)

In Kaiserkult in Kleinasien, Witulski explained in a little more detail the reason for concluding that household altars were ordered in association with the occasion of the inauguration of the Athenian temple to Zeus Olympus: pp. 130ff

With reason, it is to be noted that the consecration of the Athenian sanctuary of Zeus Olympus and the associated foundation of the institution of the Panhellenion also led to altars524 being erected in private houses525 to the reigning emperor Hadrian in the Greek-influenced east of the imperium Romanum. The geographical focus of the erection of these altars was obviously in the Greek motherland and in the western Asia Minor, i.e. in the Roman province of Asia.526 It is remarkable that the inscriptions carved on each of these altars have essentially the same wording: The reigning emperor Hadrian is given the title ‘Ολύμπιος [=Olympos] and worshipped as σωτήρ καί κτίστης [=Saviour Founder]. The regularity of the form of the altar inscriptions, expressed in the parallelism of wording and phrasing, and the large number of altars erected “imply the official nature of the occasion on which the altars were dedicated to Hadrian Olympios, Savior, and Founder“. In view of the Ολύμπιος title attached to Hadrian in these inscriptions, it is difficult to deny a connection between the content of the corresponding altars and the statues of the emperor erected in the temenos of the Athenian sanctuary of the Ζευς ‘Ολύμπιος, on the bases of which the Όλύμπιος title is also found within the imperial titulature. Therefore, the occasion that led to the erection of the house altars dedicated to Hadrian can be assumed to be the consecration of the Ζεύς Όλύμπιος sanctuary in Athens or an event closely related to this consecration, such as the founding of the institution of the Πανελλήνιον [=Panhellenion].

Anna Benjamin in 1963 documented as many as 269 altars to Hadrian in Greece-Asia so no doubt that number has increased since. The maps below identifying the sites where these altars have been found are copied from Benjamin’s article:

It is worth going beyond Witulski’s own words and reading what Benjamin herself had to say about the worship of Hadrian in this region (pp 58-60): Continue reading “Revelation’s Second Beast, the False Prophet”


Emperor Hadrian as Revelation’s Beast from the Sea

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by Neil Godfrey

Zeus Meilichios (See below for the relationship of the serpent to the worship of Hadrian)

We have seen how emperor worship directed towards Hadrian in Greece and the Roman province of Asia surpassed anything before known: Emperor Worship and the Book of Revelation. The “advent” and “presence” of an emperor, a divine figure, meant salvation for all in the region. As Horace wrote of Augustus:

Great guardian of the race of Romulus
Bom when the gods were being good to us,
You have been absent now
Too long. You pledged your word
(The august Fathers heard)
To swift home-coming. Honour, then, that vow.

Restore, kind leader, to your countrymen
The light they lack. For, like the sunshine when
It’s springtime, where your face
Lights on the people, there
The weather turns to fair
And the day travels with a happier pace.

, , , ,

When Caesar’s here the ox plods safe and sound;
Ceres and gentle Plenty feed the ground
With fruitfulness; across
The uninfested seas
Men speed with bird-like ease;
Honesty is afraid of its own loss;

No immoralities contaminate
Domestic faith, for custom and the State
Have purged the taint of sin;
Proud wives in children trace
The true inherited face;
Crime hears the tread of Justice closing in.

Who fears the swarms that Germany brings forth
From her rough loins ? Let Scythians in the north,
Or Parthians rearm,
Or the wild tribes of Spain
Rally to war again,
We sleep as long as Caesar’s safe from harm.

. . . . (Michie translation, Odes of Horace, Book 4, 5)

As Pliny wrote of Trajan’s return:

20. Now did the longing wishes of Rome recall you, and the more fond affection, you bore your Countrey, oversway’d that love, you had shewn your Souldiers. So that now you return, yet with so strict a Discipline, with so little of forrage, plunder or other abuse, as if you came from a regular peace, rather than from a tumultuous War: And, though it seem too trifling to add to your commendation, I cannot but observe, that no Father, no Husband fear’d the injurious effects of your return. . . . . There was no grievance in the pressing of Carriages, no nicety in the taking up of lodgings, no trouble in the catering of dainties for your entertainment. . . .

22. How long hop’d, how wish’d for was that day when at your return you past in publick through the City? Nay the very manner of your solemn March how gratefull, how obliging? . . . . No age, no infirmity, no different Sex was debar’d from the common benefit of glutting their eyes on that welcome and unusual sight. Children were taught to know you, young men pointed, old men admir’d, and even those, whose sickness had confin’d ’em to their beds, or chambers, contrary to the advice of their cautious Physicians, came forth, and seem’d confident, that the bare influence of so blest an object would complete their recovery. Some were content now to dye, since they had liv’d to see, what they had so long prayed for: Others were the more eager to have their lives prolong’d as knowing it would be some comfort to live under the Protection of so excellent a Government. Women thought it now some joy to be made Mothers, since they saw to what Prince they brought forth Subjects, and what a long prospect of happiness was thereby entail’d on their Children. The tops of houses were all cover’d with spectatours, who climb’d and hung over at that venturous rate, as if they were just falling, yet for crouds of company below were not likely to come to the ground. The streets were throng’d on either side, and scarce a narrow lane left for your passage. The multitude from all quarters discharg’d loud peals of joy, and thundred from every part in shouts and acclamations: While this rejoycing at your return, being as universal, as the benefits of it, grew still greater, as you march’d farther, and advanc’d along with every step you made. (From https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A55147.0001.001/1:5?rgn=div1;view=fulltext)

The presence of the emperor was the only decisive requisite for security, material prosperity, even rightly restored nature, the rule of morality and ethics in public and private life, proper reverence for the gods, justice and peace (paraphrased from Witulski, Kaiserkult in Kleinasien, p. 163). To translate the words of Jean Beaujeu in Religion romaine (p. 203) quoted by Witulski in Kaiserkult (p. 138)

The official institution of the double cult of Hadrian-Zeus Olympios (Panhellenios) in Greece [und mutatis mutandis also in Western Asia minor], considered within its framework, constitutes a creation as powerful and calculated as that of the cult of Rome and Venus in Rome; unexpected, but part of a long tradition, original, but composed of pre-existing elements, the formula, launched with great festivities and monetary orchestration, aims in both cases to provoke a psychological shock, to shake up routine, to increase confidence, euphoria, creative energy, by opening the doors to a new era, by promising and arousing prosperity and solidarity. 

Hadrian did not merely “pass through” Asia.

This reconstruction [of Hadrian’s three journeys through Asia] proves first of all that Hadrian travelled the province of Asia – like the entire Roman Empire – far more intensively than any of his predecessors. In addition, the intention of Hadrian’s three stays in the province of Asia must be fundamentally distinguished from that of Vespasian’s and Trajan’s stays there: while the latter two merely visited the province of Asia in transit, for Hadrian the focus of interest was on the Asian cities themselves, their welfare and the internal stabilisation of the imperium Romanum that this welfare provided. (Kaiserkult, p. 155, own translation in all quotations of Witulski.)

When Hadrian did depart he left reminders of his abiding presence in the coinage stamped as reminders of his “adventus” (compare the Greek “parousia”) and “praesentia”.

Recall that Hadrian’s cult was, unlike those of his predecessors, tentacled throughout the cities of the province with organized intent as part of the new institution of the Panhellenion. His temple was for the worship of Hadrian alone without being coupled with the greater Zeus and his altars were to be set up in every private home.

Hadrian was propagated as a universal saviour throughout the entire Roman province of Asia and far beyond by 132 AD (Kaisekult, 169)

The Revelation of John

It is against the above background that Thomas Witulski dates Revelation between ca 132 and 135 CE. Continue reading “Emperor Hadrian as Revelation’s Beast from the Sea”


The Two Beasts of Revelation 13; and the Image, Mark and Number of the First Beast

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by Neil Godfrey

Before Thomas Witulski informs readers of the details of events in the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian and how they enable a contemporary interpretation of Revelation 13 he analyses the meanings of different parts of the chapter itself. I cannot possibly cover every detail of his exegesis (especially the grammar and usage of certain Greek words) but will try to cover the main highlights. Keep in mind that these highlights are only preparatory to a discussion of the historical events Witulski identifies as the real subject of the apocalypse.

Revelation 13 introduces two beasts that act as representatives of a dragon who, having failed to destroy the “woman who brought forth the manchild” in chapter 12, turns his wrath on Christians.

And I saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

2 And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

3 And I saw that one of his heads was, as it were, wounded to death, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world wondered after the beast.

4 And they worshiped the dragon which gave power unto the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

The dragon gives incomparable power and rule to a beast. People show cultic-religious reverence to that beast because of its overwhelming power and possibly also because one of its heads (or the beast itself) was miraculously revived. Readers are probably meant to think of Nero since we know that long after Nero’s death we encounter evidence of hopes (especially in the eastern regions of the Roman empire) that Nero would eventually return and take back his imperial power. (Notice at the same time the antitheses that our author sets up between both beasts and the Christ as the slain but revived lamb.)

The word for “worship”, προσκύνησις, denoted the kissing of a hand along with other bodily gestures that were long reserved only for deities in the western part of the Mediterranean, but after Alexander’s conquests of the east, it came to be offered to human rulers in Greece and finally, Rome. It is also significant that the author describes this worship of the beast in the same context as he has described the heavenly worship of God. 

The power of the beast is so great that we read not of its defeating enemies, but of no one even daring to go to war against it.

11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon.
12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him; and he causeth the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

The second beast appears alongside the first beast. It is the first beast that gives authority to the second so that the second beast acts with the permission of the first. Specifically, the second beast appears in public as a propagandist of the first beast and initiates the public worship of that first beast. Continue reading “The Two Beasts of Revelation 13; and the Image, Mark and Number of the First Beast”


Emperor Worship and the Book of Revelation

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by Neil Godfrey

A reader of the previous Revelation post commented,

But at first glance, Emperor worship seems a pretty minor issue compared to the other shit that was going down in that period.

Detail of cover of Rituals and Power by S.R.F. Price. Coin from Ephesus showing temple with statue of emperor inside.

Agreed — “at first glance”. Why would the Book of Revelation make such ado over a cult that had been part and parcel of everyday life throughout the empire since the days of Augustus? Surely Christians could just stay at home or hide themselves behind the latrines when the day came for the city officials to offer their cultic devotions to the emperor. But is there evidence that something about emperor worship changed in a major way at a relevant time?

From the discussion that I outlined earlier Thomas Witulski raises the following question:

  • When, specifically, in the Roman province of Asia and between 45/50 and 155/160 CE, can we find a massive intensification of cultic-religious emperor worship accompanied by the propagation of the emperor’s divine salvation role?

Emperor worship was introduced into the province of Asia during the principate of Augustus between 30 and 10 CE. Witulski takes the extent and practices of Augustan worship as the yardstick by which to measure subsequent forms of the cult. After Augustus the emperor cult remained fairly much the same for most of the period up to the early years of the second century. During the time of Vespasian (69-79 CE) and his son Titus (79-81 CE) there even appears to have been a waning of the frequency and magnitude of the cult practices associated with emperor worship. Domitian (81-96 CE) took some steps to revive it but he did so by instituting it as the cult of the ruling Flavian family, not that of a sole emperor. This Flavian cult, Witulski notes, did not give rise to any “new cultic-religious situation for the inhabitants of the province of Asia as a whole.” It was confined to Ephesus.

In view of Domitian’s reign, there can be no question of a significant intensification of the cultic-religious veneration of the reigning regent and of his accompanying inappropriate deification in the Roman province of Asia. (Witulski, p. 135, – translation)

Trajan (98-117 CE) established a provincial cult of Zeus Philios in the city of Pergamon with himself, the emperor, to be worshiped alongside Zeus. The intention was to establish a cult in the province of Asia that was peer to Rome’s cult of Dea Roma and Divi filius Augustus. An inscription informs us that Trajan was propagandizing himself as a “new Augustus”. There is no evidence that there was any wider magnification of the cult of emperor worship in the province.

So in the opening years of the second century we find Trajan presenting himself as an equal of Augustus but the emperor cult does not go beyond anything that Augustus himself had inaugurated over a century before.

In view of this and in view of the fact that the cultic-religious veneration of the Roman emperors belonged to the everyday life of the inhabitants in the province of Asia on the provincial, but especially also on the municipal and private level, it is difficult to claim that with the inauguration of the cult of Ζεύς Φίλιος and Trajan in Pergamon a fundamentally new cultic-religious situation arose for those inhabitants of Asia who did not live in Pergamon. (p. 136 – translation)

With Hadrian, everything changes. Continue reading “Emperor Worship and the Book of Revelation”


Why was the Book of Revelation Written?

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by Neil Godfrey

Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. – Rev 1:19

My intent in this post is to give an overview of the key points argued by Thomas Witulski [TW] in Part 2 of The Revelation of John and Emperor Hadrian [translated from the German: Die Johannesoffenbarung und Kaiser Hadrian]. I include links to works that he critiques so you can follow up the other side in their own words.

Most interpreters of the above verse (Rev 1:19) consider it to be the key to understanding what Revelation is all about. But after that, opinions are divided. Does it mean that the first part of the book that introduces letters to seven churches is describing “the things that are” leaving the remaining chapters to cover future events?

In short, though TW takes four pages to say it, the answer is ‘no’. The messages to the seven churches contain prophecies of the future and the main body of the book includes flashbacks to events past. Furthermore, both parts of the book dwell heavily upon what is happening now.

So why did the author write it? TW engages with four main views.

Continue reading “Why was the Book of Revelation Written?”


Hadrian as Nero Redivivus

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by Neil Godfrey

Key points in this post:

  • Both Nero and Hadrian waged war with the Jews.
  • Both Nero and Hadrian had a special devotion to enriching and reviving the culture of the Greek world
  • Nero pursued the cultic-religious worship of his own person, Hadrian that of Antinous (and more to be covered in upcoming posts)
  • The travel coins minted by Hadrian mirror the Corinthian local coinage reflecting Nero’s visit there.
  • The rule of Hadrian witnessed a flourishing of Jewish apocalyptic writings, including the identification of Hadrian with Nero redivivus.
Hadrian brought the Temple of Olympian Zeus to completion after it had languished for 600 years. He had four more-than-life-size statues of himself at its entrance and was worshipped along with Zeus. Hadrian also displayed here a giant serpent from India.


The Nero redivivus myth is a standard interpretative feature in most commentaries on Revelation. Virtually every major commentary on Revelation mentions the myth . . .  Kreitzer (1988)

But there is little agreement on exactly how Revelation fits with the history of the Roman empire. Kreitzer lists four scenarios to demonstrate those difficulties:

Rev 11:8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

Scenario one:

  • The five fallen emperors are Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian
  • The “one who is” (at time of writing), Titus
  • Domitian is the one “to appear” (foreseen by the author) as Nero redivivus.

Scenario two (omitting those who reigned for very short times):

  • The five fallen emperors are Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus.
  • The “one who is”, Domitian
  • The seventh and eighth are yet to come

Scenario three:

  • The five fallen emperors are the Julio-Claudians (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero)
  • The “one who is” is then Galba
  • The one to come and to reign but a short time is then Otho — to be followed by Nero’s return

Scenario four is proposed by the same person who actually proposed scenario three above:

(The author) was writing in the early second century, a refugee, from a later wave of persecutions, and using the events of 64 to 69 in Rome as a cloak for his views of his own times. … To the author of Revelation the cheap and nasty legend of the risen Nero would seem the perfect legend for the anti-Christ, ever opposed to the truly and gloriously Risen Lord of his own faith. (John Bishop, Nero: The Man and Legend, p. 174)

The Nero myth was itself a variable quantity. It is as Kreitzer observes

The fact that ancient Jewish and Christian authors were able to find new and creative means of applying the Nero redivivus mythology to their own situations is particularly interesting. (1988, 95)

Indeed. And as we shall see, the emperor Hadrian who crushed the second Jewish rebellion led by Bar Kochba was also identified as the “Nero returned”.

Before we take on the details, let’s get some context.

Origin and Development of the Nero Redivivus Myth

We might say that there are three conditions necessary for a belief in someone’s return:

1.) A widespread popular affection for the figure by people who regarded the deceased as their benefactor or defender

2.) A general feeling that the figure concerned died leaving his work incomplete

3.) Mysterious or suspicious circumstances surrounding the figure’s death. 

(And we might thank M. P. Charlesworth for helping us out with that list.)

All three conditions apply to Nero. But as time went on and Nero didn’t return the hopes took a new twist: Nero was going to come back from the dead and return! As history and reality faded, myth took their place.

Non-Jews had hoped for Nero’s return. Jews, on the other hand, not so much. The idea of his return was good fodder for end-time prophecies such as those in the Sibylline Oracles, however. The Jewish oracles accordingly turned Nero into an end-time enemy of God.

How are these oracles dated? They refer to the destruction of the Jewish temple (70CE); they also refer to Hadrian in favourable terms so we presume that they were written before his war against Judea.

One set of these oracles (book 5) has been dated between 70 and 132 CE.

The oracles identify Nero by the following descriptions:

  • He initiated the war that led to the destruction of Jerusalem
  • He murdered his mother Agrippina
  • He claimed to be God
  • He loved the Greeks and those in the “east” (including Parthia) and they all loved him.
  • He cut through the isthmus of Corinth to create a canal joining two seas

Sibylline oracles identified Nero by means of known historical facts about him. And he was depicted there as an evil ruler. So where does Hadrian enter the story?

Hadrian as Nero redivivus

Curiously, Hadrian, though presented in a favourable light, is surrounded by descriptions of the unpleasant Nero. Not only is Hadrian nested within portrayals of Nero, but he also shares some of Nero’s historical identifiers. Given that the author here believes Hadrian is on the side of good and Nero on that of evil, we cannot imagine that Hadrian was understood to be Nero redivivus.

But the oracle was fearful. What of the future?

After all, Nero had brought savage punishment upon the Jews; so had the Flavians (Vespasian and Titus) who succeeded him. The oracle laments the existence of all these rulers. Then came the aged Nerva followed by Trajan. The oracle does not totally condemn those rulers: they had not caused trouble. And Hadrian, at least for now, seemed benign enough, but the past record of emperors still cast its shadow of traumatic memories. So the oracle wrote of Hadrian (5:46-50),

After him another will reign,
a silver-headed man. He will have the name of a sea.
He will also be a most excellent man and he will consider everything.
And in your time, most excellent, outstanding, dark-haired one,
and in the days of your descendants, all these days will come to pass.

Hadrian might be a fine man, but when he dies the end-of-time calamity will come — that was the message.

Still, why was Hadrian associated with Nero at all in these oracles?

Larry Kreitzer has an explanation:

It seems clear that Hadrian consciously adopted many of Nero’s benevolent policies toward the Eastern half of the Empire, deliberately modelling himself on his predecessor in this regard.

One of the important secondary sources of evidence for Hadrian’s preoccupation with the Emperor Nero is the numismatic evidence of the Imperial Roman mints. The fact that Hadrian borrowed some of Nero’s coin types for his official imperial mint issues, and used them as a means of popular propaganda, is indisputable. (1989, 69)

I’ll return to the numismatic evidence soon. For now, though, let’s look into K’s first point about Hadrian consciously adopting Nero’s policies: Continue reading “Hadrian as Nero Redivivus”


When was the Book of Revelation Written?

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by Neil Godfrey

How do we go about finding a date for when the Book of Revelation was composed?

Many have dated the work to just prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, others date it to the time of Domitian in the 90s: I set out the main reasons for each of those dates in recent posts (see links in side box). I think there are some strong arguments for dating the work to the 130s but before I go there let’s address the various factors that have been brought into play to date the work.

(By the way, some have suggested that Revelation grew piece by piece as a result of different authors over a period of time adding new sections. For my purposes here I am siding with those who have disagreed and see enough linguistic evidence to think of a single author even though that author drew upon a number of sources.)

The legend of Nero redux or Nero redivivus

Revelation speaks of a return of some sort of monstrous ruler after he had once been thought dead or simply out of the picture for some reason. We think of the many hopeful people in the eastern part of the Roman empire who long believed that their beloved Nero, after news of his suicide, was still alive and would return.

The links here take interested readers directly to the sources that testify to beliefs that Nero would return.

The Nero myth of return was still going strong in the eastern part of the empire into the second century. The historian Suetonius tells us that twenty years after Nero’s death there were many who enthusiastically believed the claims of one claiming to be Nero. Dio Chrysostom, writing between 90 and 110 CE, noted that most people in his region believed Nero was still alive. The satirist Lucian was able to remind readers of his own day, in the 140s CE, that those from their grandparents’ times had believed Nero would return. The Sibylline Oracles contain prophecies of Nero’s return: the relevant passages in book IV describe the eruption of Mount Vesuvius so are understood to have been written between 80 and 90 CE; those of book V as late as 130 CE since they refer to the Jewish uprisings throughout the Diaspora between 115-117 CE. (See also a discussion on the Reading Acts blog for the dating of these oracles.)

Emperor Worship in Asia Minor

The setting of Revelation is the Roman province of Asia (note the opening address to the seven churches). If Revelation is warning the faithful not to succumb to pressure to “worship the beast” (think of sacrifices to the Roman emperor) then it would be good to know what was happening, and when it was happening, with respect to emperor worship in that region. One scholar, Klaus Berger, has claimed that in the years leading up to 70 there was an “intensive blossoming of cultic emperor worship in Asia Minor”. On the other hand, Steven Friesen writes “The period of Nero seems to have been rather quiet with regard to imperial worship.” The evidence cited indicates that a revival of this cult had to await the consecration of a dedicated shrine in Ephesus in 89/90 CE.

666 – the number of the beast

Certainly, the number 666 is known to match the emperor Nero. However, Nero is not the only candidate whose name adds up to 666. Irenaeus himself wrote of different possible interpretations. (We will see in future posts that Revelation 13:18 can be understood to direct readers to two different persons and that one should be interpreted in the light of the other, that the man Nero returned as the beast in another emperor.)

The seven kings of Revelation 17

It appears that everyone has a method to identify these seven kings. That there are so many different interpretations (some starting with Julius Caesar, some with Augustus, some with Claudius; some omitting the three emperors of the year of the civil war, others including all or only one of them, and so forth) pretty well eliminates the possibility of using them as a guide to dating the work.

The destruction of Jerusalem

In Revelation 11 we see the two witnesses active in Jerusalem and the author is told to measure the temple there. Unfortunately, that scenario has not been enough to persuade everyone that it was written before 70 CE. As one commentator on the book wrote, “The 11th chapter [of the Apc] belongs to the darkest pieces of the Rev”.

In touch with early theology (e.g. Paul’s teachings)

Some have noted how close Revelation appears to be in relation to Pauline theology and the older (Q) tradition behind the gospels. It does not follow, though, that the work should be dated as early as those sources; the most we can say is that the author knew of Paul’s writings and the gospels.

The earthquake of Laodicea in 61 CE.

Revelation describes the church at Laodicea as being rich and comfortable. Since Laodicea was levelled in 61 by an earthquake could it have been rebuilt as early as 68/69? Some think so.

Church hierarchies

There is no obvious appearance of hierarchical structures in church governance in Revelation. That could suggest an early date. It could also suggest that hierarchies were taken for granted as they were at a later time.

Time of war and crisis

The author anticipates the fall of Roman power so the “civil wars” of 68/9 seem to fit such a time. However, keep in mind the setting of the Roman province of Asia: those battles had no effect in that region and would hardly have generated a sense of crisis there. The same applies to references to fears of a Parthian invasion. Those fears were extant throughout the period from 45/50 to 155/160 CE so cannot be used as a clear indicator for dating.

Persecutions – Nero and Domitian

Revelation does appear to speak of a time of organized state persecution of Christians. If we accept the accounts of the Neronian persecutions of Christians as historically credible we are still left with the fact that that was a one-off event. It was past history by the time Revelation was written. As for the persecutions of Christians in the time of Domitian, scholars have been obliged to conclude that the evidence there is very thin. There are some late reports of individual cases but nothing to suggest an organized program to suppress Christianity. Besides, we need to be careful about what Revelation actually depicts as historical on the one hand and what it anticipates in the future on the other.

Twelve apostles and Babylon

Revelation presents the twelve apostles as the foundation of the new Jerusalem and uses Babylon as a cipher for Rome.

Critics of a date prior to the destruction of the temple in the year 70 claim that the notion of “twelve apostles” being the foundation of the church is unlikely to have been extant so soon. Similarly, critics have said that Babylon would only have been used as code for Rome after it had destroyed Jerusalem.

A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine!

Thus says the voice at the appearance of the black horse.

Did Domitian issue an edict that sought to regulate the disproportion between wine and grain cultivation in the empire? Some think there is evidence that he did, but it is far from certain that any such edict was issued. If it had been then it appears to have been only a temporary measure. There is precious little evidence that such an event happened or that it had any appreciable impact in the province of Asia if it did.

Testimony of Irenaeus

Irenaeus is thought to tell us that John wrote Revelation in the time of Domitian. Given that Irenaeus wrote around 180 CE, that testimony can only have historical weight if it can be shown that behind the claim there is an oral or written tradition that dates back close to the time of the writing of Revelation.

The arguments set out on the one hand for the nature of sources used by Irenaeus are lengthy; so are the arguments that examine the grammatical structures used by Irenaeus, the differences between the Greek and Latin versions of the key passages, and discussions on what conclusions we can draw from all of that detail. Bypassing all of that material here, I will only note that it appears certain that Irenaeus had a habit of citing his sources wherever possible to add weight to his work, and that when he did not do so, we have reason to believe that his statements were conclusions he drew from his own reasoning and assumptions.


Next up, we’ll look at some preliminary reasons for thinking Revelation was a response to Hadrian in the 130s.

Witulski, Thomas. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007. http://www.librarything.com/work/5467644/book/208189148.


The Book of Revelation and the Bar Kochba Revolt

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

by Neil Godfrey

Scene from Trajan’s column

I have been posting preliminary information on dates that are widely assigned to the Book of Revelation but have decided to jump ahead and make it clear where these posts are headed.

Thomas Witulski has presented some interesting arguments for dating Revelation to the time of the lead up to and beginning of the Bar Kochba war in the time of Emperor Hadrian, between 132 and 135 CE.

So how does that setting fit with the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”?

  • The white horse is the conquering emperor Trajan. White horses in mythology and historical triumphs were associated with conquerors in their triumphs (and with Zeus himself).
  • The red horse represents the various messianic-led Jewish uprisings in the years leading up to the 130s throughout Cyrenaica, Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia.
  • The black horse whose rider carries the scales represents a ruler responsible for justice (as commonly symbolized at that time by scales, emblem of the goddess Aequitas); prices are said to be extremely high but, contrary to a famine setting, land producing oil and wine was not to be touched and converted to grain production. This horse represents a governor of Asia who was forced to cope in condign ways with the results of the Jewish revolts that had reduced grain supplies from Egypt.
  • The pale horse represents the fate of the Jews following the suppression of their uprisings — death, executions, famine, wolves threatening survivors in areas reduced to chaos.

Okay, so what about the measuring of the temple?

The rebels’ programme of (re)building the Yahweh sanctuary in Jerusalem and reinstalling the priestly-dominated cult of the temple should also be understood in this context: (a) The measuring out described in Apk 11:1-2a for the purpose of rebuilding or reestablishing the temple, the θυσιαστήριον and the worshippers there presupposes that these buildings and conditions are not present or destroyed at the time of the writing of the Apk. This obviously corresponds exactly to the conditions in Jerusalem at the threshold of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, as Cassius Dio describes them2, (b) The depiction in Apk 11:1-2a. according to which the apocalyptic was commissioned to measure the temple, the θυσιαστήριον and the people worshipping there for the purpose of new construction or rebuilding, but did not (or could no longer) carry out this commission3, ties in with the corresponding programme described above. At the same time, however, it also reflects the apocalypticist’s assessment of the further course of the rebellion, which he had to arrive at after taking into account the various measures taken by the Romans to put down the uprising5: The rebels did indeed consider Jerusalem and the sanctuary of Yahweh. Jerusalem and the Yahweh sanctuary and to reinstall the temple cult; in the end, however, the ναός τοΰ θεού and the associated θυσιαστήριον – at least according to the apocalypticist’s assessment – will not be rebuilt, for those who want to worship there and practise the Jewish worship of God, there will not be such a possibility (anymore).

The historical reference of Apk 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 Apk 11:1-2a could be referred to these decisions of Hadrian without any problems: The apocalypticist is supposed to measure the temple, the θυσιοοτήριον and the people worshipping there for the purpose of rebuilding or reconstruction.

(Die vier apokalyptischen Reiter, pp 305f; translated)

The two witnesses?

Bar Kochba and the priest Eleazar, the political and religious leaders of Israel who were dedicated to the liberation of Judea from the Romans. I know. Questions arise. I will address details in future posts.

The beast and his false prophet?

Hadrian and his advisor, propagandist and rhetor Antonius Polemon

The author expected Hadrian to kill the Bar Kochba and the priest Eleazar and that the whole world would rejoice in the destruction of those it held responsible for war.

The posts won’t be completed this week, but hopefully they will be finished before year’s end.


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

—. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007, http://www.librarything.com/work/5467644/book/208189148.

—. Die vier apokalyptischen Reiter Apk 6,1-8: Ein Versuch ihrer zeitgeschichtlichen (Neu-)Interpretation. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.


On Revelation’s Beast and 666 symbolizing Gnostic Wisdom

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

by Neil Godfrey

So you think you can figure out the “seven kings” and work out the time-frame of Rome in the Book of Revelation. Here’s something to push you off-balance with all your ingenuity. It’s from one of those “Dutch Radicals” of a hundred years ago. It’s a slightly edited machine translation. All bolded highlighting is my own.

Symbolism in the Apocalypse of John.


Dr. G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga, Santpoort.

The next occasion for my lecture topic (the lecture was given during the congress of the Dutch Oriental Society in Leyden, 21 April 1922) is probably the contribution by Carl Clemens on the pictoriality of the Revelation of John, published in the Festgabe für Julias Kaftan.1 The important studies by Gunkel, Bousset, Boll and others have primarily focused on the origin of the apocalyptic images – Clemens wanted to place more emphasis on what the author himself and his readers thought of his book, which then also includes an understanding of the literary forms he used.

Holy Wisdom Icon – Wikimedia

Reading this essay has inspired me to take up again a question I dealt with ten years ago during the international congress on the history of religion here and to examine more closely the solution proposed at that time.2 The starting point for me at that time was the interpretation of the famous number of the great beast,3 Apoc. 13:18, the triangular number (αριθμός τρίγωνος) 666, which can be traced back to the basic number 36 according to a custom that can often be proven in antiquity and is thus interchangeable. 36, however, is also a triangular number and as such can be replaced by 8.1 The eight was then easily associated with the eightness, the Ogdoas, which in the Gnostic systems is another name for wisdom, Sophia or Chokma. The Ogdoas appears as a place, namely the fixed starry sky above the seven planetary spheres (Clem. Alex. Strom. IV. 159, 2). According to Plutarch (Theseus 36), it has the peculiarity of the abiding and immovable; it is the transcendent world, the εστώς, the άπίάνητος Λιών (cf. Clem. Alex. V. 36, 3). After traversing the seven spheres, Tyche, for example, enters, according to Poimandres (XIII. 17 ff.), into the Ogdoas, the place for the songs of praise of those redeemed from the body (I. 26). As the heavenly Jerusalem, however, it is with the Valentinians the mother of all living creatures (Hippol. VI. 34, 3). In the Ogdoas, which is called the Day of the Lord, the spiritual beings come to rest and remain there with the mother until perfection (Clem. Alex. Excerpt from Theodotus 63, 1).2 But the mother-deity becomes in the Gnosis an abstract concept, namely Wisdom, Sophia, Chokma. 3 The one brought forth by the earthly mother is led into death and into the world, the one reborn by Christ is led over into life, into the Ogdoas (a. a. O. 80, 1). According to Bousset1 , the mother has a much greater significance than Jesus in the practice of the sacraments and often also in the basic mood of piety.  The mother is the χύριος, the cult heroine of the gnostic, not Jesus.  In Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom. VI. 140, 3] as in the Gnostic Markos (Hippol. VI. 47, 1) the Lord is called Επίσημος ΰγδόας. That the apocalyptic really means Sophia by his number comes out when he himself says in a veiled way: ωδε ή σοφία. When it is said of the beast 17:8 [sic. corr 17:11] that it is itself the ογδοος, this is almost literally true again of my supposition; when it is further said that it belongs to – better perhaps: it consists of – the seven, then consider that the Gnostic Ogdoas as mother belongs to the seven aeons, or as pleroma consists of the seven aeons. On the seven heads of the beast there is a name of lust: this name is probably distributed over the seven heads, a name of seven letters, therefore, consisting of the seven vowels, which denote the στοιχεια, the elemental powers. The a and ω, i.e. the sum of syllabic vowels,2 is, according to the Apocalypse, not the Pleroma of the Aeons, but God (1:8; 21:6) or Christ (22:18). The magic prayer of the Papyrus Anastasy contains these words: “the God who founded the earth, created men and spirits, . . who wears the diadem of the world, is ιαωουηα, the άπλάνητος ΑΙών.” So the god of the seven spheres, who is in contrast to the planets ο ίστώς and at the same time the Νους, the Syrian god of light and the Yahweh of the Jews; 3 in the papyri, however, the Sophia is expressly called the Aion.

2 Euseb- Praepar. ev. XI. 6: by joining the seven vowels together, the unspeakable name of the All-Holy One can be obtained. They express the glory of the divine name.

As I proved in my lecture of 19124, the apocalypticist did not have Rome in mind at all with his references to Babylon. For him, Babylon is the symbol of astrology and of the closely connected magic and conjuration.1 Babylon, the gate of God and the gate of truth, which, for example, is still regarded by the Manichaeans as the holy city and the centre of the world2 and where, according to the Babylonian-Persian view, the divine messenger descends, became, in the estimation of his enemies, the innermost part of hell.3 Opposite this seat of sin and demons, according to the Jewish view, stands Jerusalem, the city of the seven pillars or of life. For Herodotus I. 181 already knew of the house of life on the seven towers in Babylon; for the Jews, this was later the Hana of the false wisdom, the foreign wooer, situated high above the city.4 In the Apocalypse, Babylon refers precisely to the devilish worship of wisdom. Rightly did Irenaeus (v. 30, 1) behold in the great beast the image of apostasy, the church of Antichrist.5 The πόρνεια which is pronounced by her throughout is heathen idolatry with sorcery (16:2) and demon-beings (16:14). Babylon is a ποςνή because she has given herself up to demons. She sits on Sophia, the ethnicising gnosis, the astral religion that engages in sorcery practice and demon summoning; in God’s hand, this very Sophia causes her fall (17:3). The beast is covered with blasphemous names; these are probably magic names, which give the same power to the knower as the bearer of the name has.

The woman in the 12th chapter is the antitype of the beast; if in Irenaeus (I. 29, 1) the Barbelo or Gnostic Sophia is called “a never-aging aeon in a female spirit”, it is noticeable that the woman of 12:1 is also thought of as everlasting, when she appears clothed with the sun and has the moon under her feet, which according to Horapollon 1 is a sign of eternity.6

Important in this respect is the 11th chapter, where the two witnesses are probably Moses and Elijah, who are then again symbolic representatives of the law and the prophets as in the story of the transfiguration; they prophesy in robes of repentance and encourage repentance. They fall prey to the beast and then lie in the market place of the great city called ηνευματιχως Sodom and Egypt Which city is meant here? In the 5th book of the Sibyllines (v. 154, 226, 413) the πόλις is indeed Jerusalem, and one might think in connection with the mention of the temple (11:1 f.) that this is also the case here, but 18:2, 10, and 21 is evidently meant Babylon, and this agrees better with the epithets Sodom and Egypt, which typically stand for πόρνεια and μάγεία. To all appearance the witnesses perish; but they stand on their feet again after 3½ days, and ascend to heaven in a cloud, just as Mt. 17:5 is testified of Moses and Elijah: νεφελή φωτεινή επεσχίπσεν αύτούς. They are raptured. Thus the beast of the abyss is here again the Babylonian gnosis, which divides itself threateningly against the Messianic church, which kills law and prophets – in Babel, where libertinism and magic are at home; where also the Lord of Moses and Elijah was crucified; he fell, after all, victim to the same pagan powers, which are now worshipped by Christians in an almost unbelievable manner! The great question of the relationship between the old and the new is thus solved in the Apocalypse in a more conservative way than in the Gospel of Matthew. 16:19 Allo (p. 241) has understood the matter correctly; there, too, the great city that falls into three parts is not, as Weizsäcker, Joh. Weiß and most others think, Jerusalem, but Babylon, although there is as little reason for his equation Babylon = Rome here as anywhere else; one may well agree with Allo that Babylon serves as a type for the church of the Antichrist, which in my opinion is closer to the Babylonian-oriented astral religion and magical gnosis than to the Roman world empire with its imperial cult. The φαρμαχοί or sorcerers (18:23; 22:15), the angel-worshippers of 19 :10, the idolaters (βδίλυγμα) and heretics (ψευδος), 21:7, 27; 22: 15, are, besides the Nicolaitans, the blasphemers who call themselves Jews and are not, but a congregation of Satan, those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, the pseudo-apostles and pseudo-prophets,1 probably the Gnostics, who, it is true, are not to be fixed on any particular school, still less on any of the greater systems, but must be regarded as the far-reaching direction of the times, imbued with Babylonian wisdom.

It is a well-known fact that in mythological representations the figure closely associated with an animal is often to be thought of in even closer connection with it, indeed as identical with it. Thus Babylon appears on the great beast, the harlot who courts the kings of the earth, identical with the mother-goddess herself, and here comes to light the equally well-known fact that the queen of heaven, as an immoral woman, not only consorted alternately with various male mythical figures, but also entered into a love relationship with the earthly kings.2 According to the Gnostic Justin in Hippolytus (v. 26, 4), Babel is even a maternal angelic being alongside Achamoth and others, is identified with Persephone and causes fornication and divorce (20).

The extent to which vulgar gnosis and magic are connected is also emphasised by Bousset when he3 writes: “How easily the concept of gnosis can turn completely into that of magic is shown by Epiphanius 31, 7, 3; p. 397, 9 H ……. In the Zosimus text appended by Reitzenstein, Poimandres, p. 103, the πνευματικός Άνθρωπος, however, expressly rejects magic. But the rejection shows how much gnosis and magic are accustomed to combine.” 

How very uncertain one actually still is in the conventional conception of the apocalyptic beasts becomes clear when one hears the question in Bousset with regard to the pseudoprophet: the priesthood of the imperial cult? We involuntarily think of a figure like Simon Magus of Samaria, the pagan region influenced by the Euphrates, whose disciples do not care about the moral commandments. Their mystical priests lead a lustful life and indulge in sorcery, curses, incantations, love potions, lures, etc. (Iren. I. 23, 1). They have an image of Simon made after the model of Zeus, and one of Helena made after the model of Hera (I. 23, 4; cf. Hippel. VI 20, 1). Menander, a pupil of Simon, reached the height of sorcery, so that he could even overcome the wave-creating angels, and introduced others to his art (I. 23, 5). Of the Carpocratians Irenaeus reports the same (I. 25, 3), so that the Church Father can assert: they were brought forth by Satan just as well as the heathen, to the dishonour of the divine name of the Church.

The most remarkable thing about the whole affair is that the author of the Apocalypse moves entirely in the language and imagination of his opponents and fights them with their own weapons, so to speak. The star-gods have here become God-serving spirits. As Allo1 has rightly put it: John has consciously or unconsciously been inspired by a popular Hellenistic system whose ideas he has spiritualised. I would add that he uses these forms in order to make the foreign tributary to Christianity, but strives to avoid and suppress all pagan essence. The Judaeo-Christian element is therefore not narrow here, but has a broad horizon.2

2 After the conclusion of this essay, the work of Franz Dornseiffa (Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie, 1922) comes into my hands, where 8. 106 ff. our explanation is rejected.The terminology ψηφισατω τον αριθμον τού θηρίου is m. Ε. intentionally borrowed from the thought circle of Gematria; ο νουν εχων but do not be misled by this; the riddle is just more difficult than the ordinary Gematria! I still regard ‘Αριθμος as belonging to a human number system, because D. has not taught me better; nor is his reference to the Book of Jeû  able to change my exegesis of Apk. Joh. 13 :17.

Bergh van Eysinga, G. A. van den. “Symbolisches in der Apokalypse Johannis.” Acta orientalia 2 (1924): 32ff. http://archive.org/details/in.gov.ignca.26535