Date of the Apocalypse

The date of Jap can be established by external and internal evidence.

§ 1. External evidence. -- This evidence almost unanimously assigns Jap to the last years of Domitian. But some anciet, but not the earliest, authorities assign it to the reigns of Claudius, Nero, or Trajan. This may be in part due to the survival in the sources used by our author of statements and situations presupposing an earlier date than that of Domitian. That these survivals explain the great divergence of scholars of the past fifty {xcii.} years on the dating of the Apocalyse, we shall see when we turn to the internal evidence.

     The Trajan date. -- To return, however, to the three days just mentioned, i.e., the reigns of Claudius, Nero, and Trajan, we shall treat first of the last. This dating is found only in very late authorities. Theophylact on Matt. 2022: VIwa,nnhn de. Trai?ano.j katedi,kase marturou/nta tw/| lo,gw| th/j avlhqei,aj) Synopsis de vita et morte prophetarum (attributed to Dorotheus): u`po. de. Trai?anou/ basile,wj evxwri,sqh evn th/| nh,sw| Pa,tmw| ) ) ) meta. de. th.n teleuth.n Trai?anou/ evpa,neisin avpo. th/j nh,sou ) ) ) eivsi. de. oi] le,gousin mh. evpi. Trai?anou/ auvto.n evxorisqh/nai evn Pa,tmw| avlla. evpi. Dometianou/)(1) These statements appear, as Swete suggests (Introd. p. c), to have arisen mainly from a misunderstanding of such words as those in Irenaeus, ii. 22. 5, pare,meine ga.r auvtoi/j $ov VIwa,nnhj% mecri. tw/n Trai?anou/ cro,nwn, or those cited below from Origen on Matt. tom. xvi. 6.

     The Claudius and Neronic dates. -- 111-2 and 69 of the Apocalypse, if taken literally, refer to Jerusalem and the Temple as still standing, and the martyrdoms of Nero (64-68 A.D.). Other sources, though less clearly, postulate a Neronic date. Hence it is not difficult to understand the assignment of the banishment of John to the reign of Nero in the title prefixed to both the Syriac versions of the Apocalypse and by Theophylact (Praef. in Ioann.). I do not see, however, how we are to explain the Claudian date (41-54 A.D.), which is maintained by Epiphanius (Haer. li. 12, meta. th.n auvtou/ avpo. th/j Pa,tmou evpa,nodon( th/n evpi. Klaudi,ou genome,nhn kai,saroj: li. 33, auvtou/ de. profhteu,santoj evn cro,noij Klaudi,ou kai,saroj avnwta,tw( o[te eivj th.n Pa,tmon nh/son u`ph/rxen)

     The Domitianic date. -- The earliest authorities are practically unanimous in assigning the Apocalypse to the last years of Domitian. Melito of Sardis (160-190 floruit) may possibly be cited as upholding the Domitianic date, as he wrote a commentary on Jap and addressed a protest to Marcus Aurelius declaring that Nero and Domitian had at the instigation of certain malicious persons slanderously assaulted the Church (Eus. iv. 26. 9: cf. Lact. De Mort. Persecutorum, 3)

Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 180-190). In his account of the persecution of Christians by Domitian, Eusebius (iii. 18. 3) quotes the following words from Irenaeus: eiv de. e;dei avnafando.n evn tw/| nu/n kairw/| khru,ttesqai tou;noma auvtou/( diV evkei,nou a;n evrre,qh tou/ kai. th.n avpoka,luyin e`wrako,toj) ouvde. ga.r pro. pollou/ cro,nou e`wra,qh( avlla. scedo.n evpi. th/j m`ete,raj genea/j( pro.j tw/| te,lei th/j Dometianou avrch/j) This passage is found in Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. v. 30. 3, almost exactly as quoted in Eusebius.

{xciii.} Clement of Alexandria. In his Quis Dives, 42, we find: tou/ tura,nnou teleuth,santoj avpo. th/j Pa,tmou th/j nh,sou meth/lqen evpi. th.n {Efeson)

Origen (185-253). In Mt. xvi. 6 (Lommatzsch, iv. p. 18), o` de. VRwmai,wn basileu,j( w`j h` para,dosij dida,skei( katedi,kase to.n VIwa,nnhn marturou/nta dia. to.n th/j avlhqei,aj lo,gon eivj Pa,tmon th.n nh/son) Neither in Clement nor Origen is Domitian's name given, but it may be presumed that it was in the mind of these writers. Victorinus (circ. 270), Eusebius, and Jerome are quite explicit. Victorinus in his In Apoc. 1011 writes: "Hoc dicit propterea quod quando haec Ioannes vidit, erat in insula Patmos, in metallum damnatus a Domitiano Caesare. Ibi ergo vidit Apocalypsin. Et cum jam senior putaret se per passionem accepturum receptionem, interfecto Domitiano, omnia judicio ejus soluta sunt. Et Ioannes, de metallo dimissus, sic postea tradidit hanc eandem quam accepereat a Deo Apocalypsin." Also on 1710 "Unus exstat sub quo scripta est Apocalypsin, Domitianus scilicet." Eusebius, H.E. iii. 18. 1: VEn tou,tw| kate,cei lo,goj to.n avpo,stolon a[ma kai. euvaggelisth.n VIwa,nnhn e;ti tw/| bi,w| evndiatri,bonta( th/j eivj to.n qei/on lo,gon epneken marturi,aj( Pa,tmon oivkei/n katadikasqh/nai th.n nh/son) iii. 20. 9: To,te dh. ou=n kai. to.n avpo,stolon VIwa,nnhn avpo. th/j kata. th.n nh/son fugh/j th.n evpi. VEfe,sou diatribh.n avpeilhfe,nai o` tw/n parV h`mi/n avrcai,wn paradi,dwsi lo,goj) iii. 23. 1: VApo,stoloj o`mou/ kai. euvaggelisth.j VIwa,nnhj ta.j auvto,qi diei/pen evkklhsi,aj( avpo. th/j kata. th.n nh/son meta. th.n nh/son meta. th.n Dometianou/ teleuth.n evpanelqw.n fugh/j) Jerome (De viris illustr. 9): "Quarto decimo anno post Neronem persecutionem movente Domitiano in Patmos insulam relegatus scripsit Apocalypsum . . . interfecto autem Domitiano et actis ejus ob nimiam crudelitatem a senatu rescissis sub Nerva principe redit Ephesum."

§ 2. Internal evidence. -- To the cursory reader the internal evidence as to the date is hopelessly confusing. But this evidence is confusing not only to the cursory reader, but also to the earnest student, as the history of the interpretation of Jap clearly shows. The students of Jap fall into three groups on this question. (1) Those who assign it to the reign of Nero after the Neronic persecution, 64-68 A.D., such as Baur, Reuss, Hilgenfeld, Lightfoot, Westcott, Selwyn, B. W. Henderson. (2) Those who place it under Vespasian, as B. Weiss, Dusterdieck, Bartlett, Anderson Scott. (3) Those who maintain the Domitianic date.

For these three dating internal evidence is undoubtedly forthcoming. Our author has used sources, and several of these were written under Nero, or at all events before the fall of Jerusalem, as the reader will see under the section Greek and Hebrew Sources and their Dates, p. lxii sqq. But such a date cannot be maintained in the face of 1710-11 (see vol. ii. 59-60, {xciv.} 69-70) and 184, both of which postulate a Vespasianic date. Hence such statements as clearly presuppose a Neronic date (i.e., in 111-13 12 (?). 131-7. 10) are simply survivals in the sources used by our author.

Hence it appears that the Apocalypse was written either under Vespasian or under Domitian. The external evidence is, as we have already seen, unanimous in favour of the latter as against the former. We have now to discuss the bearing of the internal evidence on this question. This evidence, which is clearly in favour of the Domitianic date, is as follows.

(a) The use of earlier N. T. Books. -- See pp. lxxxiii-lxxxvi. There it is shown that our author most probably used Matthew and Luke. If this is so, it makes the Vespasianic date impossible, unless these Gospels were written before 70 or 75 A.D.

(b) The present form of the Seven Letters, although in their original form of Vespasianic date, point to a Domitianic. -- The Church of Smyrna did not exist in 60-64 A.D. -- at a time when St. Paul was boasting of the Phillipians in all the Churches. Cf. Polycarp (Ad Phil. xi. "Beatus Paulus . . . gloriatur in omnibus ecclesiis, quae solae tunc Dominum cognoverant; nos autem nondum cognoveramus"). But though Polycarp's letter tells us that the Church of Smyrna was not founded in 60-64 A.D., he gives no hint as to when it was founded. Hence several years may have elapsed after that date before it was founded. When, however, we turn to Rev 28-11 we find that our text presupposes a Church poor in wealth but rich in good works, with a development of apparently many years to its credit. This letter, then, may have been written in the closing years of Vespasian (75-79) but hardly earlier. But if the present writer's hypothesis (see vol. i. 43-46) is correct, then the Seven Letters, all of which probably belong to the same period, were re-edited; for whereas they speak generally of local persecutions, there is not a hint, save in 310, of the universal martyrdom that is taught or implied in the rest of the book. Nor again is there a single clear reference to the imperial cult of the Caesars, unless possibly in 310. (See vol. i. 43-46). The Letters, therefore, in their original form, acquaint us with the experiences and apprehensions of the Churches in Vespasian's reign. But what worlds divide their original outlook from that of the Book in which they are incorporated! The natural conclusion, therefore, is that though our author wrote the Letters in the reign of Vespasian, he re-edited them in the closing years of Domitian for incorporation in his Book.

(c) The imperial cult as it appears in Jap was not enforced until the reign of Domitian. -- There is no evidence of any kind to prove that the conflict between Christianity and the imperial cult had {xcv.} reached the pitch of antagonism that is presupposed in the Jap before the closing years of Domitian's reign. In the reign of Vespasian the Christians, as Moffatt (Introd. 504) writes, "seem to have enjoyed a comparative immunity . . . and our available knowledge of the period renders it unlikely (cf. Linsenmayer's Bekampfung des Christentums durch den romischen Staat, 1905, 66 f.) that anything occurred either under him or Titus to call forth language so intense as that of the Apocalyse." Moreover, Vespasian did not take his claims to divinity seriously. But Domitian insisted on the public recognition of these claims, and in the last year of his reign he began to persecute the Church in the capital of the Empire. Thus in Rome he had his own cousin Flavius Clemens executed, and his niece Flavia Domitilla and others banished for their faith to the island of Pontia, Eusebius (H.E. iii. 18. 4) stats that there were many others.(2) Now, if Christians of the highest rank were exposed to martyrdom in Rome, what would be expected in Asia Minor, where the cult of the Emperor had been received with acclamation as early as the reign of Augustus, and had by the time of Domitian become the one religion of universal obligation in Asia, whereas the worship of the old Greek divinities only took the form of local cults? Compliance with the claims of the imperial cult was made the test of loyalty to the Empire. In the earlier days, Christians had been persecuted for specific crimes, such as anarchy, atheism, immorality, etc. But in the latter days of Domitian the confession of the name of Christ (cf. Jap 23. 13 38 1211 204) was tantamount to a refusal to accede to the Emperor's claims to divinity, and thereby entailed the penalthy of death (1315). Now, with the insight of a true prophet John recognized the absolute incompatibility of the worship of Christ and the worship of Emperor, even if this worship were conceived merely as a test loyalty to the Empire. Therein he penetrated to the eternal issues underlying the conflict of his day, and set forth for all time the truth that it is not Caesar but Christ, not the State but the Church that should claim the absolute allegiance of the individual. Nay more: the prophet maintains that the conflict between the claims of Christianity and the absolutism of the State can never be relinquished till the State itself, no less than the individual, tenders its submission and becomes an organ of the will of the Lord and of His Christ (1115).

(d) The Nero-redivivus myth appears implicitly and explicitly in several forms in our text, the latest of which cannot be earlier than the age of Domitian.

The Jewish source lying behind 1712-17 was probably written {xcvi.} in the reign of Titus. It embodies the expectation that the living Nero will return from the East at the head of the Parthian hosts -- an expectation to be found in the Sibylline Oracles of this period (See vol. ii. 81). Another phase of this myth which appears in our text (in 117), but with which we are not here concerned, is dealt with in vol. ii. 83. But the last phase of this expectation attested in our text is given in 13 and 17. At this stage there is a fusion of the Nero myth with those of the Antichrist and Beliar. The expectation of a living Nero returning from the East has been abandoned. Nero is now a demon from the abyss, combining in his own person the characteristics of Beliar and the Antichrist. This phase of the myth belongs to the last decade of the 1st century. For this form of the myth, see vol. ii. 84-87.(3) I do not see how it is possible to assign 13 and 17 in their present form to the reign of Vespasian, though the sources behind both these chapters were mainly of a Vespasianic date, and in part of that of Titus.

Before we leave this section it will be well to touch again on the interpretation of 1710-11. Bousset (p. 416) has rightly protested against the identification of Domitian with the eighth head. This is done by some commentators, but can only be done by misinterpreting the nature of Christian apocalyptic. Some, who accept the Vespasianic date, are guilty of the first offence; others, who accept the Domitianic date, are guilty of both.

Let us consider the latter offence first -- that which consists in misunderstanding Christian apocalyptic. If we accept the Domitianic date and assume absolute unity of authorship, we must conclude that the writer "transfers himself in thought to the time of Vespasian, interpreting past events under the form of a prophecy, after the manner of apocalyptic writers" (Swete). Such a procedure belongs to Jewish apocalyptic but not to Christian, till we advance well into the 2nd century. Those who urge the Vespasianic date are not guilty of the misconception, but the Apocalypse does not admit of the Vespasianic date. Hence, if we accept the Domitianic date, 1710-11 must be regarded as a survival from sources belonging to the time of Vespasian and Titus. In its present context, therefore, 1710-11 does not admit of precise interpretation. For Domitian cannot be identified with Nero redivivus. This brings us to the first offence.

Domitian cannot be identified with Nero redivivus. Not a single phrase descriptive of the latter can be rightly applied to Domitian, if we accept the Domitianic date as the evidence requires. Nero redivivus is described in 178 as to. qhri,on ) ) ) {xcvii.}h=n kai. ouvk e;stin kai. me,llei avnabai,nein evk th/j avbu,ssou( kai. eivj avpw,leian u`pa,gei( and again o[ti h=n kai. ouvk e;stin kai. pa,restai) So again in 1711, where it is further added that he evk tw/n e`pta. evstin) See also 117. Another description is given in 133 kai. mi,an evk tw/n kefalw/n auvtou/ w`j evsfagme,nhn eivj qa,naton( kai. h` plhgh. tou/ qana,tou auvtou/ evqerapeu,qh) Cf. 1314. Now I have shown in vol. ii. 71: (a) Domitian cannot be described as ouvk e;stin, seeing that e;stin must be affirmed of  him. (b) Pre-existence cannot be ascribed to him, as the clause o] h=n would require. (g) It cannot be said of him that he is evk tw/n e`pta,) (d) It is impossible to connect mi,an evk tw/n kefalw/n w`j evsfagme,nhn (133) with Domitian. (e) It cannot be maintained of Domitian, who is already seated on the throne of the Beast, that me,llei avnabai,nein evk th/j avbu,ssou) (z) There is no ground for making Domitian the leader of the Parthian hosts against Rome, as Nero redivivus is represented in 1712-13. 17. 16, and fighting against the Lamb, 1714. (h) Nor can we conceive Domitian in 1911-19 as mustering the nations to battle against the Word of God in the Messianic war that prepares the way for the Messianic kingdom.(4)

It is not an actual Roman emperor, but a supernatural monster from the abyss that is to play the part of the Nero redivivus, and that in the immediate future.

1. The above two quotations are drawn from Swete, Introd. p. c.
2. On the persecution under Domitian, see Lightfoot, Clem. Rom. I. i. 104-115.
3. A critical study of all the forms assumed by the Antichrist myth is given in vol. ii. 76-87.
4. If it were possible to ascribe the Apocalypse to the reign of Vespasian the objections given in b( g( d above would be fatal to the identification of Domitian with Nero redivivus. z and h would also stand in the way.


Scanned and edited by Brad Johnson