The Book of Revelation in Hadrian’s and Bar Kochba’s Time – Another Case

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by Neil Godfrey

Before Thomas Witulski’s 2012 book (link is to posts discussing W’s work) that identified the two witnesses of Revelation with figures in the Bar Kochba War there was Joseph Turmel’s 1938 publication, which made the same fundamental point but by a different route. You can read his case from the link in my Turmel page and/or you can read some key points in what follows here.

Turmel set out the two most commonly expressed options for the date of the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) —

  1. from soon after the time of Nero’s death, say 69 CE
  2. the late first century around the time of Domitian

Turmel eliminates the first option because it lacks motivation: the idea of a returned Nero to destroy Rome was inspired by popular rumours in the wake of a Nero-imposter who, no later than February 69 CE, came not from the Euphrates River and was slain before he reached Rome; such a figure cannot explain the details we read in Revelation.

A second Nero-imposter did appear in the year 88, this time from beyond the Euphrates (as per Revelation). So the time of Domitian is more likely, but given that the popular anticipation of a return by Nero continued through to the time of Augustine, Revelation could also have been written a good while after Domitian.

Revelation depicts God’s vengeance befalling the planet as a result of the cries of the recently slain martyrs. (Whether those martyrs are Jewish or Christian remains open at this point.) There were three periods of mass martyrdoms:

  1. Nero’s purported persecutions (64 CE),
  2. the widespread massacres in Trajan’s time (ca 117 CE)
  3. and the Bar Kochba war of 132-135 CE.

Turmel has ruled out #1; he rules out #2 on the grounds that it did not take place in Palestine or Jerusalem — as indicated in Revelation; so that leaves #3.

Are the martyrs Christians?

No, concludes Turmel, because their blood is linked to the blood of the prophets before them. The martyrs belong to the prophets. They are the Judeans.

This conclusion is confirmed by the conclusion of Revelation where the New Jerusalem descends to the place where the old Jerusalem was once situated and the twelve gates bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Yes, we also read that the foundation stones were twelve in number and that the names of the apostles were inscribed on them, but how could such a large city said to be a square shape have twelve bases? No, that detail is a later addition to try to Christianize a Jewish Apocalypse.

Turmel refers to the evidence we later find in Jewish writings to depict Bar Kochba as a self-proclaimed Messiah and his promoter, the rabbi Akiba, as comparable to Ezra or Moses. These two men led a revolt that lasted around three years (132-135), thus easily inviting a Danielic reference to 1260 days / three and a half years for the time of the two witnesses. Bar Kochba was famous for being able to literally perform the magician’s trick of breathing fire from his mouth. He had coins minted with the image of the temple beneath a purported star — suggesting that he had hastily built a new temple (the star was a reference to his name and the prophecy in Numbers).

Some of those details have been disputed (successfully, I think) in more recent publications. For example, the later idea that Bar Kochba claimed to be the messiah is not supported by the earlier evidence. But see the Witulski posts for details.

Turmel and Witulski otherwise have very different readings:

Turmel — Revelation is principally a Jewish work that was supplemented with Christianizing edits; the dragon who sweeps a third of the stars down from heaven is understood to be a Christian monster leading many Judeans astray, for example.

Witulski — Revelation is principally a Christian work that focussed primarily on Hadrian and his propagandist Polemo.

Both agree on identifying Bar Kochba as one of the two witnesses. (Witulski replaces Turmel’s Akiba with the high priest Elazar.)

What I liked about Turmel’s discussion was his explanation for the site of Jerusalem being called Sodom and Egypt: Hadrian had replaced the site with his new capital Aelia Capitolina (dedicated to Jupiter). That’s why a New Jerusalem was to descend and take its place.

What I find difficult to accept in Turmel’s discussion is that a Christian editor might leave untouched the original Jewish account of the two witnesses being taken up to heaven in the sight of all if he so hated them because of their persecutions of Christians. I think Witulski’s explanation that that image was a future projection at the time of writing is preferable. (W also sees the Christian author having anti-Pauline and pro-Jewish sympathies.)



Translations of Works by Joseph Turmel (=Henri Delafosse) Now Available

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve added another batch of English translations of “past masters” to this site. See the new page Turmel/Delafosse works translated into English. It’s listed with others in the right margin of this blog.

Joseph Turmel was brought to my attention by Roger Parvus a decade ago. Parvus engages with Turmel’s thoughts and offers his own modifications. See especially his series on a case for Simonian origins of Christianity (another static link in the right margin). His study of the Ignatian letters also engages with Turmel’s thoughts.

Turmel was one of the radical thinkers in the time of Alfred Loisy, Charles Guignebert, Paul-Louis Couchoud, . . .  Like Loisy, he was a Catholic priest, but unlike Loisy, he stayed undercover for quite some time publishing under a pseudonym (= Henri Delafosse).



Joseph TURMEL (=Henri DELAFOSSE) — Works Translated to English

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by Neil Godfrey

Joseph Turmel (= Henri Delafosse)

The translations here were created in 2021 for my personal use and without any thought of sharing them publicly at the time. I only ask that you keep that in mind when using them.



When a Priest Loses His Faith

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by Neil Godfrey

You have heard of priests who are closet atheists. Have you ever wondered why they stay in the Church? What are they thinking? Here is an explanation from one Catholic priest who lost his faith. It’s from the autobiography of Joseph Turmel who was eventually excommunicated. I have copied the passage from the online edition at Scribd.

First, the life plan. What should I do? Could I remain in the Church? Ought I not to leave?

Had I posed the question to ecclesiastical authorities, their only response would have been to expel me and to make it impossible to continue a ministry that, from their perspective, could only be a horrible sacrilege. If I had let my parents and my mentor, M. Gendron, know of the state of my soul, they would have died of broken hearts. Thus I could not confide in anyone. Asking advice was not an option; and I was reduced to deciding alone the choice that would henceforth determine my life.

The decision did not require much thought; it was not long in coming.

Civil servants know that the smallest breach of duty, legal action aside, will result in an administrative suspension that will shatter their life and bring shame, sorrow or even ruin upon their family. And this formidable prospect ordinarily keeps those who would be tempted to shirk their duty faithful to it. Among the clergy the only real crime in existence is breaking the law of celibacy. When it is made public, it plunges the faithful into deep distress and astonishment. But only rarely does it come to light. Not that breaking the law is infrequent. It is just that such crimes occur in the dark. The faithful are content to shut their eyes and do not want to be made to open them; the authorities, too, do everything possible not to know and not to have to intervene. Liberties are taken with the law of celibacy; but the takers remain in the ranks of the clergy; scandal is avoided: everyone benefits.

All these thoughts went round in my mind; they haunted me, but they also imposed compelling conclusions. To lay aside the cassock that I had worn for ten years (I had entered seminary in 1876) to return to a civilian life that I had renounced by solemn oaths, would be to shatter my life, and wound my parents and my adoptive father; at the same time it would be denouncing myself publicly as guilty of a breach of duty, a crime.

What was my crime? Here the facts spoke with a bitter eloquence. I have said earlier (p. 24) how the Roman Church, through its aggressive legislation, through the tyrannical condemnations it directs against even the most modest bids for sincerity, keeps truth out of seminaries and crams aspirants to the priesthood full of falsehoods and fables. Its future ministers come to ordination with their minds filled with illusion. Then, taken up with ministry, having neither time nor taste for personal study, they generally tend to stick to the adulterated wares served up to them in seminary: they remain deceived. My crime, the result of intense labor, was to have seen through this deceit and to have refuted the lies which had ensnared me. An inexpiable crime in the view of the Roman Church, which, if she had been aware of it, would certainly have punished me. In laying aside the cassock, in leaving the clergy’s ranks, I should have let the Church win; I would have inflicted on myself the punishment that the Church, unaware of the state of my soul, could not.

In a burst of indignation I cried out: “Because I have discovered the trap in which the Church ensnares the faithful and particularly aspirants to the priesthood, I should be obliged to condemn myself and my family to dreadful sufferings? No, that will not be. Promises made at knifepoint grant no rights to the cutthroat who exacts them. They impose no obligation on the victim who signs them. They are null. The Church that systematically hid the truth from me, that fed me lies, acted like a relentless cutthroat toward her victim. Methods differ; the dishonesty is the same. The Church has no rights over me. I certainly do not have to accept the verdict it would pronounce if it knew my state because this verdict would be merely a shameful travesty of justice. I have the right to impose myself on the Church. I will impose myself, I will continue to celebrate the rites to which it has bound me. She can only blame herself for the misfortune that has befallen her in my person. Moreover, other misfortunes of the same kind will inevitably continue to occur, if she does not quickly renounce falsehood and impart honest teaching to her clergy. But she surely knows that her seminaries would empty immediately and that her aspirants to the priesthood would return to the world after a few weeks if the truth were allowed to reach them. With the current regime in seminaries, only priests who have the time and taste for study can enlighten themselves. What is this insignificant loss beside the void that would occur if the teaching given in seminary were based on respect for the truth? The Church derives too much profit from falsehood ever to deprive herself of its services.

Having decided to remain in the Church, I needed to make no change to my life. Nothing was altered, except that study henceforth benefited from the two hours previously taken up with exercises of piety.

From “Martyr to the Truth”: The Autobiography of Joseph Turmel


Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3

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by Roger Parvus

The previous post concluded with

. . . at a minimum, the Saturnilians are addressing the same kind of issues we see in addressed in Paul’s letters. At a maximum, . . . 1 Corinthians could be providing us with a window . . . on the Saturnilian church sometime between 70 and 135 CE.

Continuing . . . .

What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. 


4th Jan 2021: See comments below for revisions by Roger Parvus to his original post:

The Real Paul

If in the Pauline letters someone—whether Saturnilus or someone else—has made Paul the recipient and bearer of a new gospel i.e., the Vision of Isaiah, it would mean that our knowledge of the real Paul is more questionable than ever. The widely accepted rule in New Testament scholarship has been to give Paul’s letters the nod whenever their information conflicts with that of the Acts of the Apostles, especially concerning Paul himself. His information is first-person and earlier than Acts. The author of Acts seems to be more ideologically-driven than Paul. So Paul’s account in Galatians 1:1-2:14 of how he came by his gospel and became an apostle is considered more accurate than what Acts says about the same matters. Likewise regarding Paul’s account of how in the presence of James, Peter and John he defended his gospel and received their approval of it. But this preference for the Galatians account of events takes a hit if it was in fact written by someone like Saturnilus who was looking to promote the gospel he had projected onto Paul. What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. Alfred Loisy was one:

The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.

Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this is perhaps secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).

But things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened…

Interpret as we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, he was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief... (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, pp. 126-7)

My hypothesis supports Loisy’s claim that the real Paul was commissioned as an apostle in the same way that other early missionaries were: by being delegated for a mission by a congregation which supported him. And that the real Paul’s gospel was no different from theirs: the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus will be coming to establish it. But if that is the way the real Paul was, why does Acts try to take him down a notch? Continue reading “Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3”