Sunday, 12 April 2015

Was Revelation written under Domitian?

Domitian
Nero died in 68 and there were 3 contenders for the throne in quick succession. First Galba, then Otho. After Otho's suicide in April 69 supporters of Vitellius proclaimed him emperor and supporters of Vespasian in the Eastern provinces proclaimed him emperor. The Senate in Rome accepted Vitellius as emperor initially in mid 69 and conferred Vespasian as emperor in December 69. About that time Vespasian was in Egypt securing food for Rome and his son Titus was fighting the Roman-Jewish war. Vespasian's other son Domitian ruled in Rome and was aided by the general Mucianus after the general arrived in Rome. Domitian was 18 at the time and ruled for 6 months until Vespasian arrived in June 70. Domitian had full consular authority. Josephus writes
[Mucianus] then produced Domitian, and recommended him to the multitude, until his father [Vespasian] should come himself; so the people being now freed from their fears, made acclamations of joy for Vespasian, as for their emperor, and kept festival days for his confirmation, and for the destruction of Vitellius. (War of the Jews, book 4, chapter 11.4)
Cassius in his Roman History notes that both Domitian and Mucianus acted like they were emperors. The sarcastic letter from Vespasian to his son Domitian is amusing.
Thus Vespasian, like some others, had been born for the throne. While he was still absent in Egypt, Mucianus administered all the details of government with the help of Domitian. For Mucianus, who claimed that he had bestowed the sovereignty upon Vespasian, plumed himself greatly upon his honours, and especially because he was called brother by him, and had authority to transact any business that he wished without the emperor's express direction, and could issue written orders by merely adding the other's name. And for this purpose he wore a ring, that had been sent him so that he might impress the imperial seal upon documents requiring authorization. In fact, he and Domitian gave governorships and procuratorships to many and appointed prefect after prefect and even consuls. In short, they acted in every way so much like absolute rulers that Vespasian once sent the following message to Domitian: "I thank you, my son, for permitting me to hold office and that you have not yet dethroned me." (Roman History, book 75, chapter 2. Emphasis added.)
There is a tradition that Domitian exiled John to Patmos and that he was freed by Nerva. Domitian was emperor from 81 to 96 and was succeeded by Nerva. This implies that Revelation was authored during Domitian's reign which is a common belief. If, however, he was exiled by Domitian when he was consul for his father Vespasian in the first half of 70, he could have subsequently been released by Nerva who was made consul in 71.
Vespasian took as his colleague in the consulship in 71 A.D. M. Cocceius Nerva. Now Nerva—the future emperor—was the representative of a family distinguished for three generations as jurists, and no doubt his appointment at this particular time was due to Vespasian's desire to have a skilled lawyer at his side for dealing with the mass of sentences of exile and of confiscation which were the legacy of the successive revolutions. Nerva held office during the first nundinum of 71 A.D., and it is permissible to believe that in accordance with tradition one of the sentences quashed by him was that which sent John to Patmos. If by an order of Nerva he were now released, his exile would have lasted almost exactly one year. (Edmundson, Church in Rome in the First Century, lecture 6)
Edmundson links a passage in Revelation to these Caesars. John sees a woman riding a scarlet beast with blasphemous names, 7 heads, and 10 horns. The angel explains this mystery,
This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. (Revelation 17)
The 7 hills or mountains are usually identified with Rome. The 7 kings are sometimes identified as Caesars. Others have identified them as kingdoms. The beasts seem to be identified as kingdoms in Daniel. In Revelation beast may represent the Roman Empire. Earlier in Revelation John says that the number of the beast is a number of a man. I think the number likely refers to Nero. So is Nero the beast? Or does the number represent Nero and Nero identifies the beast as Rome? In the passage above a beast is linked to the kings. It is a beast that was, and is not, it is an eighth, but belongs to the 7.

Edmundson argues that these 7 Caesars are fallen so must have died violent and not natural deaths. He says that Domitian is the sixth king (acting for Vespasian).
"The one who is" signifies the man for the moment invested with imperial power, Domitian, the acting Emperor, who banished the writer.
Thus, as per Edmundson, the kings are
  1. Claudius
  2. Nero
  3. Galba
  4. Otho
  5. Vitellius
  6. Domitian
  7. Vespasian
But the eighth is unclear—presumably Titus. And why start at Claudius? Caligula was murdered and Tiberius may have been (Tacitus states he was smothered by Caligula).

Julius is sometimes named the first emperor and Suetonius (c. 120) starts his count of the 12 Caesars from Julius, however Julius was involved in a civil war (which he won) and there was further civil war after his death. It was Octavian (Augustus) who won the subsequent wars and the form of government was changed. Although Julius was instrumental in the development of the Roman Empire, it may be preferable label Augustus the first emperor.

# # # Name Start End Reign Born Died Age Death
1

Julius 49 BC 44 BC 5 100 BC 44 BC 53 Murder
2 1 1 Augustus 27 BC 14 AD 40 63 BC 14 AD 75 Natural
3 2 2 Tiberius 14 37 22 42 BC 37 AD 77 Uncertain
4 3 3 Caligula 37 41 4 12 AD 41 AD 28 Murder
5 4 4 Claudius 41 54 13 10 BC 54 AD 63 Murder
6 5 5 Nero 54 68 13 37 AD 68 AD 30 Suicide
7 6
Galba 68 69 7 m 3 BC 69 AD 70 Murder
8 7
Otho 69 69 3 m 32 AD 69 AD 36 Suicide
9 8
Vitellius 69 69 8 m 15 AD 69 AD 54 Murder
10 9 6 Vespasian 69 79 10 9 AD 79 AD 69 Natural
11 10  7 Titus 79 81 2 39 AD 81 AD 41 Natural
12 11 8 Domitian 81 96 15 51 AD 96 AD 44 Murder
13 12
Nerva 96 98 2 30 AD 98 AD 67 Natural

After the suicide of Nero there were several contenders for the throne, each murdering his predecessor. It was a period of civil war with Galba killing supporters of Nero and in turn being killed by Otho, a friend of Nero. Otho went to war against Vitellius and those who supported Vitellius for Emperor, taking his own life when defeat was inevitable. And as noted above, the Eastern provinces threw their support behind Vespasian for Emperor mid 69 even though he wasn't recognised as such by the Senate until December. The 18 months civil war with factional support of differing claims to Emperor make it difficult to accept Edmundson's ascription of Galba, Otho, or Vitellius as emperors of the Roman Empire. Likewise, it is also difficult to accept his comment calling Domitian Emperor because he was ruling in his father's absence.

Thus we have as Roman Emperors
  1. Augustus
  2. Tiberius
  3. Caligula
  4. Claudius
  5. Nero
  6. Vespasian
  7. Titus
  8. Domitian
If this corresponds to John's 7 kings then
  • five of whom have fallen: Augustus to Nero
  • one is: Vespasian
  • the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while: Titus
Note that Titus only ruled for 2 years.

And the beast?
The beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven. (Rev 17)
Domitian was in the sense he had been acting emperor. He is not at the time of Vespasian. He is an eighth in that he became the eighth emperor. And he belongs to the seven in that he ruled during the time of the seven: specifically during the beginning of the sixth reign. (One of the seven may also allude to him being related to Vespasian.)

This interpretation of Revelation 17 of being written early in Vespasian's reign but while Domitian was a proxy emperor makes sense of much of the internal and external data around the dating of Revelation. Internally Revelation was written in the late 60s, and externally it was written under Domitian; though when he was acting emperor his father in 70 rather than during his emperorship from 81–96. If correct this would suggest Revelation was written in early 70 but prior to the final razing of Jerusalem.

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