2022-06-24

The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11: the theories

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

by Neil Godfrey

The two witnesses, as depicted in the Bamberg Apocalypse, an 11th-century illuminated manuscript. Wikimedia Commons

This post picks up from Measuring the Temple where we set out various interpretations of the first two verses of Revelation 11 (where John is commanded to measure the temple) as they are discussed by Bielefeld University‘s Professor Thomas Witulski in  Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand. Here we do the same for the two witnesses in Rev 11:3-13.

There have been two approaches to the scholarly work on the two witnesses: one search has attempted to find the models from Jewish traditions upon which the two witnesses are based; the other has focussed on identifying the figures “in reality”: are they historical persons who embody ancient prophetic characters, or are they two ancient prophets returned at the moment of crisis, or are they meant to be symbols?

The early Jewish templates

Enoch and Elijah come to mind on the basis that both are said to have ascended to heaven without first dying. There was apparently a widespread belief that one or both of them would return one day to complete the work they had begun before being taken to heaven. One has to wonder how such a model fits Rev 11:6 which reads much more like the works of Moses, though:

and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague . . .

Victorinus of Pettau wrote one of the earliest commentaries on Revelation in which he proposed that the models for the two witnesses were Elijah and Jeremiah. Victorinus relied upon a tradition that Jeremiah, like Elijah, had been translated to heaven without seeing death. W. notes, however, that the same kind of problem applies to Jeremiah: the two witnesses perform the works of Elijah (calling fire down from heaven and proclaiming the end to rainfall for an extended period) and Moses (turning waters to blood and striking the earth with plagues) — none of which can be related to anything we know of Jeremiah.

Since Elijah eliminated his enemies by calling down fire from heaven and punishing Israel with a drought, and Moses turned waters to blood and ordered plague after plague, most exegetes have settled on Elijah and Moses being the templates for the two witnesses. They perform the same miracles, after all. Christian tradition, according to the canonical gospels, further links Elijah and Moses at the time they appeared together at Christ’s transfiguration.

Nonetheless, the notion that Moses had ascended to heaven in the past as Elijah had done is “only very rarely attested in Jewish and Christian tradition, if at all.” (Witulski p. 9 – citing Aune)

Witulski concludes that while it cannot be denied that the author of Revelation used traditional material form Jewish and Christian sources, his interest was not to equate the two witnesses with those traditional figures but only to use traditional motifs to shape a particular profile for them.

Who/What are they? 

Are they symbolic figures?

Continue reading “The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11: the theories”


2022-06-20

Measuring the Temple in Revelation 11 – the Questions Arising

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

by Neil Godfrey

Saint John Takes the Rod to Measure the Temple
From Wikimedia Commons

I have been attempting to share with interested English speaking readers the German language publications of Professor Thomas Witulski’s thesis that the book of Revelation was most probably written in the early 130s, the time of emperor Hadrian.

The first series surveyed the reasons for identifying the two beasts of revelation, the one from the sea and the other from the land, with Hadrian and his propagandist Polemon. We saw the case for interpreting Hadrian as a Nero redivivus and the relevance of the number 666. The same series took an overview of how Hadrian’s program of an intensified focus on emperor worship in Asia Minor along with his own unprecedented identification with Zeus himself, and the requirement of all homes to contain shrines to the emperor, explained the situations facing the seven churches addressed in the opening chapters of Revelation. (I may still add to this series with further discussion of the evidence for Hadrian’s impact on Asia Minor.)

The second series covered the four horsemen of the apocalypse and their relation to events preceding Hadrian: the two-stage conquests of Trajan; the bloodbath that covered much of the eastern Mediterranean as a result of the Jewish (probably messianic) uprisings; the effects of these rebellions on the food supply in Asia Minor; and the merciless suppression of those rebellions by the Romans.

This third series is based on a third book by Witulski, Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand : eine zeitgeschichtliche Interpretation [= Rev 11 and the Bar Kokhba Uprising: a contemporary interpretation]. Those who read German are excused from reading these coming posts and turning instead to the book made available on archive.org.

One of the darkest parts of Revelation

Ulrich Müller wrote in his commentary:

Das 11. Kapitel gehört zu den dunkelsten Stücken der Offb. = Chapter 11 is one of the darkest parts of Rev. (Müller, 205)

André Feuillet wrote an article for New Testament Studies,

Le chapitre xi de l’Apocalypse est un des passages les plus discutés de ce livre, célèbre entre tous par son obscurité. = Chapter xi of the Apocalypse is one of the most discussed passages of this book, famous among all for its obscurity. (Feuillet, 183)

Pierre Prigent in his commentary:

The majority of commentators start their explanation of Rev 11 by admitting they encounter in this passage (and in chapt. 12) the greatest difficulties in the entire book. (Prigent, 337)

If hitherto the passage has been so dark, Witulski asks:

Can the text of Rev 11:1f, 3-13 . . . possibly be illuminated in a new and hitherto completely unknown way by dating of the writing of Rev to the time of Emperor Hadrian? (Witulski, 1 – translation)

Go and measure the temple

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. — Rev 11:1-2

Since Julius Wellhausen (Analyse der Offenbarung Johannis — how can a 1907 book not be available online!*) many interpreters of Revelation 11 have agreed that the prophecy should be read as set in the last days of the Jewish War that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. The prophecy was penned by a zealous Jew who had hoped that though the Roman armies were besieging Jerusalem there was still an expectation that God would intervene and protect the inner sanctuary of his temple. (Wellhausen pointed out that the passage has no characteristics of a Christian or Christ-related proclamation.) After all, do we not read in the account of Josephus that many Jewish defenders clung to the belief that divine deliverance was sure and imminent: Continue reading “Measuring the Temple in Revelation 11 – the Questions Arising”