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.
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)
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?
In the preceding post I copied extracts from Demetrios Kritsotakis’s thesis Hadrian and the Greek East that illustrated the unprecedented level to which the Roman emperor Hadrian was exalted as a divinity — all in the context of Thomas Witulski’s thesis that the Book of Revelation is best dated to the time of Hadrian (117-138 CE). Here I continue quoting Kritsotakis (and works he cites) insofar as they arguably support the interpretation that Hadrian best represents the principal “beast” figure in Revelation.
Who can make war with the beast?
Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? (Rev 13:4)
Hadrian followed a non-expansion policy and his reign was marked by a general lack of major military conflicts, apart from the Second Roman-Jewish War.
The peace policy was further strengthened by the erection of permanent fortifications along the empire’s borders, such as the British Wall and the fortifications along the Rhine frontier. (pp 1f)
Hadrian abandoned his predecessor Trajan’s newly conquered territories of Mesopotamia, Armenia and Assyria, an unpopular decision with many Roman senators, but he “made up” for those withdrawals by establishing secure and clearly visible boundaries and introducing an era of “peace and prosperity”:
However, Hadrian insisted on holding the Empire within its limits, on the one hand by ceasing further expansion, on the other by marking the limits of the Empire. Beginning in 121, a continuous palisade was to mark the empire’s limits on the Rhine frontier. Besides its military value, to the barbarians it marked off the Empire more clearly than ever before. In Britain he began, in 122, the great Wall and in North Africa he organized the southern frontier of the Empire. (p. 32)
After he was declared emperor in 117 . . . the strengthening of the empire’s frontiers became a priority for Hadrian. Accordingly, during his first trip from 121 to 125 Hadrian paid special attention to the borders of the empire. It was in this period that he inaugurated the construction of the British wall (122) as well as of a palisade on the Rhine frontier (121), and there is evidence that he attempted to construct a similar border in Northern Africa153. To further secure the borders of the empire, Hadrian improved military discipline by example. According to Dio, the emperor so trained and disciplined the army both by his example and his precepts that even in Dio’s own days “the methods then introduced by him (Hadrian) are the soldier’s law of campaigning.”
153 . . . A passage in [Historia Augusta] may allude to it. The author claims that “in many regions where the barbarians are [held] back not by rivers but by artificial barriers, Hadrian shut them off by means of high stakes planted deep in the ground and fastened together in the manner of a palisade” (pp. 68f.)
Another allusion to Hadrian’s domination of the world, this time emphasizing his military skills, is found on a silver denarius from Rome. The obverse depicts a laureate bust of Hadrian while another image of the emperor is seen on the reverse. Here the emperor is presented bare-headed, in military dress, holding a rudder on a globe in his right hand and a spear reversed in his left. The image of the emperor who seems to rest rather than being in preparation for a battle, and the symbol of leadership, the rudder, resting on the globe, speak of his rule over the world, achieved by military skill. (140)
Even though I went through a “Hadrian focus” in my reading some years back, I remained unaware of the potential relevance of several details of that emperor’s reign to the Book of Revelation as highlighted by Thomas Witulski’s several works. So when my good friend Serendipity showed me another work independently addressing some of the same issues Witulski covered, I once again put blog posting on hold until I could finish reading that new work along with several of its citations. The “new” work is a PhD thesis by Demetrios Kritsotakis and the extracts below will tell you why I think it is an appropriate addition to the discussion of Witulski’s thesis:
Hadrian and the Divine
An important factor that determined Hadrian’s policy in the East was his personality. Among other things, the emperor was interested in divination and mystic cults, magic and superstitions, was skilled in astrology, knowledge of every science and art, and was even credited with healing powers. Although this aspect of his personality is not directly connected with his cult in the region, it pertains to the divine, the superhuman and as such I deem it worthy of being examined here. Moreover, I believe that these interests of his facilitated his reception among the. Greeks. They were part of the religion-colored language that the Greeks and the emperor used to communicate with each other.
In spite of the fact that this aspect of Hadrian’s life was the subject of great interest in our sources, modern scholarship has underestimated the significant role that it played in the creation of his image in the East.
This chapter will discuss the role of religion in the promotion of Hadrian’s program and vision for the Greek East in the region. The center of his religious program was the imperial cult, which focused on the emperor but also on the imperial house, especially his wife Sabina, and outside of it on his young lover Antinoos. However, here I will not talk about the mechanisms of the cult and the individuals involved. This has been amply treated in modern scholarship. Instead, I will discuss aspects of his religious program that have not received the attention they deserve so far. (K, p 161)
I will post in two parts a series of extracts from Kritsotakis’ thesis, grouping them under headings relevant to W’s interpretations of Hadrian in Revelation. (The one detail K does not mention is the introduction in Asia Minor of private household shrines for Hadrian.)
Emperor Cult Taken to New Levels
. . . and they worshipped the beast (Rev 13:4)
Hadrian received more divine honors in the Greek East than any of his predecessors. These honors, among them the unprecedented erection of statues, his worship in shrines, and close association with many Greek divinities, strengthened his relationship with the region and placed him in the heart of religion and the Greek pantheon. In honoring him the Greeks identified Hadrian with major divinities of their pantheon. Hadrian became the manifestation of Zeus, Apollo and other gods on earth, and a number of epithets were used to address him as a god. (K. 162)
Hadrian was hailed by the Greeks in an unprecedented association with Zeus and was viewed by them as the new Olympian who would preside over their councils and lead them. (163)
To start at the beginning, Hadrian promoted his appointment as emperor as the direct result of divine appointment. Among the senatorial ranks in Rome questions had been raised about the legitimacy of his succession to Trajan.
Thus, early in his reign, Hadrian wanted to state his divine election publicly. . . . [T]he message carried here [the eagle coming to Hadrian in the coin image above] was that it was not by the foresight of mortal men or even a mortal now deified, but by the foresight and the care which the gods exercised for the Roman commonwealth that Jupiter sent his messenger, the eagle, to grant Hadrian the ruling of the world. . . .
. . . if it were ever doubted whether Rome’s rulers were appointed by chance or by the gods, it is now clear that the present princeps owes his position to the will of the gods; not by dark processes of fate, but clearly and openly by Jupiter himself. (167-168)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
The commentary was published in 1928 under the name of Henri Delafosse, about two years before Turmel was denounced by the Catholic Church as a heretic. From that time on he was free to publish under his real name.