By George Salmon
THE JOHANNINE BOOKS,
THE DATE OF THE APOCALYPSE.
It will be convenient if before proceeding further I state in more detail the modern theory as to the date of the Book of the Revelation. I have already said that modern critics, who agree with Dionysius in assigning the Gospel and Apocalypse to different authors, differ from him by claiming Apostolic authority for the latter, not the former. And in this case we have the singular instance of sceptical critics assigning to a New Testament book an earlier date than the orthodox had claimed for it. The latter, following Irenaeus, had assigned the Apocalypse to the reign of Domitian, and had regarded it as the last work of the Apostle John, written in extreme old age. Modern critics, on the other hand, are willing to grant the book a quarter of a century of greater antiquity. From the verse xvii. 10, * There are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come, they infer that the book was written after the death of five Roman emperors, and during the reign of the sixth. There is a difference in the way of counting Roman emperors, which, however, is made not to affect the result. If we begin the reckoning with Augustus, Nero is the fifth, shortly after whose death the book is supposed to be written. In fact this fixes the date within very narrow limits, for the reign of Galba only lasted from May 68 to January 69. The more usual computation made Julius the first of Roman emperors,1 and this is adopted by Renan; but the date which he assigns the book is the same; for his theory is, that though Nero was really dead at the time, he was supposed by the author of the book to be still living, so that the five kings then dead were Nero's five predecessors.
The disappearance of Nero was so sudden, and his death witnessed by so few persons, that vague rumours got abroad, especially in Asia and Achaia, that he was not really dead. Tacitus tells us (Hist. ii. 8, 9) that an impostor speedily took advantage of this state of feeling. He is said to have been of servile origin, was like Nero in personal appearance, and had the same musical skill. Giving himself out to be the emperor, he got some followers about him, and established himself in a little local sovereignty, the centre of his power being Cythnos (one of the Cyclades not far from Patmos), to which island he had been driven by tempests when crossing the sea. But his power was of short duration; for he was slain early in the reign of Otho, and his body was sent round to different cities, in order completely to dispel the delusion which he had excited. Some twenty years later, however, there was again talk of a false Nero, the pretender this time having presented himself in Parthia, where he obtained credence, protection, and support (Suet., Nero, 57). The belief that the matricide Nero had fled beyond the Euphrates is expressed in the Sibylline books, iv. 119, 137, and accordingly the book containing the verses referred to is judged to be a Jewish composition of the date 80 or 90. Now the Apocalyptist is regarded by Renan and the other interpreters of the same school as having shared this belief about Nero. This is what is supposed to be implied in the verses xiii. 3, 12, 14: I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed; and again, xvii. 11: The beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition, which is interpreted to mean that Nero, one of the seven emperors, was to return and rule for a time as the eighth. The mention of the kings of the East, xvi. 12, is interpreted as containing a reference to the Parthians, by whose aid Nero was to be restored.2
This is the theory which is elaborated in Kenan's fourth volume (L' Antechrist). It was at once accepted by a writer in the Edinburgh Review (Oct., 1874), whom I imagined at the time (I do not know whether or not correctly) to be Dean Stanley; and more recently by Archdeacon Farrar (Expositor, 1881). Kenan's view, and it is that most popular among Rationalist critics, is that this work was written by the Apostle John at Ephesus in that crisis which agitated every Jewish mind, the great Jewish war with the Romans, in the end of the year 68 or beginning of 69, a couple of years before the destruction of Jerusalem. What the seer is sup posed to anticipate and to predict in the beginning of the eleventh chapter is that the siege would to a certain extent be successful, and the city be trodden under foot of the Gentiles for three years and a-half; but that the Temple should not be taken, for that our Lord's second coming should rescue the Jews and be accompanied by the destruction of Rome.
The beast of the Revelation is said to be Nero, and Renan has revelled in the accumulation of a multitude of offensive details, which have been faithfully transcribed by his English followers, with the view of showing how applicable the title of wild beast was to that monster. But, in my opinion, no one who compares the Book of Daniel with the Apocalypse will require any ingenious explanation of the use of the imagery of beasts in the latter book beyond the fact that it occurs in the former. It is supposed, however, that all doubt has been now removed through the discovery in quite recent times of the true explanation of the mysterious number 666.3 This is said to be Nero Caesar written in Hebrew lettersנדון קסד 4 And what is supposed to demonstrate the correctness of this solution is, that it accounts equally for the numbers 666 and 616, both of which were early found in MSS. of the Apocalypse (see p. 224). For the difference is explained as arising from a difference in the way of spelling Νέρων with or without the final letter, the numerical value of which in Hebrew is 50.
Who the false prophet was, who is described (xiii. n, xix. 20) as working miracles and compelling men to worship the beast and receive his mark, these interpreters are less agreed. One (Volkmar) gravely maintains that the person intended is St. Paul, who by instructing Christians (in Rom. xiii.) to submit to the higher powers had made himself the prophet of Nero. Another suggests that it might be the historian Josephus. A third contends for Simon Magus. Archdeacon Farrar upholds the claims of the emperor Vespasian. But these modern expositors of the Apocalypse all agree in putting forward an interpretation from which it results that the book is in every sense of the word a false prophecy a prediction falsified by the event. It foretold that Nero was to recover his power, but in point of fact he was then dead; it foretold (and apparently in ignorance of the prophecy which Matthew has put into the mouth of our Lord) that the temple should not be taken; but actually not one stone of it was left upon another; and, finally, it foretold that the provinces should cast off the Roman domination and destroy the imperial city; for this is the interpretation given to chap. xvi;. 6, 17 the ten horns, into whose heart God had put it for a time to give their kingdom to the beast, shall now hate the whore, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. But, in point of fact, the wars that followed the death of Nero had no such result. On the contrary, under the Flavian emperors, the dominion of Rome was more firmly established than ever.
I confess that I am under a certain disadvantage in criticizing any theory which professes to give the true interpretation of the Apocalypse, for I have to own myself unable to give any better solution of my own, feeling like one of Cicero's disputants, facilius me, talibus de rebus, quid non sentirem, quam quid sentirem, posse dicere. However, I am bound to state the difficulties which prevent me from accepting the theory, now becoming fashionable, as furnishing the true solution.
And it seems almost enough to appeal to the estimation in which the Apocalypse has been held from the first. Is it a credible hypothesis that any man ever gained for himself permanent reputation as an inspired prophet by making a prediction which was falsified within a year of the time when it was delivered? According to this theory, St. John does not, like some pretenders to the gift of prophecy, make himself pretty safe by postponing to some tolerably distant future the date when his prophecy is to come to pass. He undertakes boldly to foretell the event of the great military operation of his time. For a parallel case we should imagine Victor Hugo, or some other French prophet, in Christmas, 1870, issuing a prediction that Paris should to a certain extent be taken, and a third part of the city burnt, but that the Germans should not get the mastery over the whole; for that there would be an uprising of the other German nations against the Prussians, ending with the total destruction of the city of Berlin, to the great joy of Europe. We can imagine some one mad enough to make such a prophecy as this; but if so, can we imagine that a prediction so wild and so unfortunate should make the reputation of the prophet, and that the book which contained it should live for generations as an inspired document? In the case of the Apocalypse, as we are asked to understand it, the seer could hardly have had time to publish his predictions before he must have himself wished to recall or suppress them, their failure was so rapid. Possibly within a month after they were made the pretended Nero was killed and his im posture exposed. Then came a rapid succession of emperors, proving that it was a mistake to limit their number to seven, and, not long after, the destruction of Jerusalem, from which the Temple did not escape.
According to this theory, too, we must suppose that the intention of the Apocalypse was understood at the time it was published. For otherwise what object could there be in the work? It was intended, we are told, to inspire in Christians certain hopes and expectations; and in order to have this effect, its general purpose, at least, must have been made plain. And yet the knowledge of the writer's meaning completely perished. Irenaeus, separated from the book by only one generation, and professing to be able to report the tradition concerning the number of the beast handed down by men who had seen John face to face, is utterly ignorant of its purport. The solution of Nero for 666 is quite unknown to him, and he is so far from connecting the book with the times of Nero as to refer the work to the reign of Domitian.5 He has not the least suspicion that recourse is to be had to the Hebrew alphabet, but treats it as a self-evident principle that Greek numerals are to be employed.6
The argument just used, that permanent reputation could not have been gained by a prophecy which signally failed, may seem to lose its force if it be true (as the Edinburgh Reviewer contends) that St. John's prophecy, as he under stands it, did not fail. It is perfectly certain, he writes, that Nero did not in fact return; that the Roman Empire did not in fact break up till more than three centuries later; that not a part but the whole of Jerusalem and of the Jewish Temple was destroyed; that the Second Advent of our Lord to judgment did not soon, nay, has not yet occurred. But in spite of all this, we venture to say that the Apocalypse of St. John, that Hebrew prophecy, on the whole, has nevertheless not failed; that, properly understood, its forecasts have been, for every rational and religious purpose, successful. And he goes on to explain that it is religious confidence in God which is the essential teaching of all the Hebrew books; that in the Bible all ethical speculation is reduced to its ultimate and most practical terminology in the word "faith." In details we are very likely to be entirely mistaken, but they who have believed will find at last that they were not deceived, that Christ, not Antichrist, rules the universe, that God and not the devil is supreme, and must in the end be triumphant. Mere soothsaying, we are told, was never in any marked degree the intention of prophecy at all. But when Apocalypse, which may be called the decay, the senility of prophecy, began to busy itself with mere world- empires and with the political succession of events, it cannot be a matter of surprise if its predictions went astray. But though a succession of Apocalyptic efforts to sketch out the future triumph of God's kingdom over the world-empires signally failed in time, in place, in circumstance, it more signally came true in the barbarian overthrow of the Roman Empire, and the establishment of modern Christendom.
Substantially the same view is taken by Archdeacon Farrar. He censures Luther's remark that for many reasons he regarded the book as neither Apostolic nor prophetic. The Archdeacon holds it to be both, and considers that Luther's unwarrantable judgment proceeded from a deficient acquaintance with the necessary characteristics of the Apocalyptic style. The Apocalyptic method differed from the prophetic, and appears to stand upon a lower level of predictive insight. But the prophecies of this book have springing and germinant developments. Nero did not, as was popularly supposed, take refuge among the Parthians, and was not restored by their means; but the prophecy has received an adequate fulfilment in the appearance of successive Antichrists with Neronian characteristics, Domitian, Decius, Diocletian, and many a subsequent persecutor of the saints of God.
It is not the business of this course of lectures to discuss the proper method of interpreting prophecy; for the purposes of my argument it is enough to know what was the method of interpretation which prevailed at the time the Apocalypse was published. Now I feel myself safe in saying that the view is quite modern which regards prophecy as a kind of sacred song of which the melody only need be attended to, the words to which the air is set being quite unimportant. The ideas of the Jewish mind had been formed by the Mosaic direction (Deut. xviii. 22): When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously. Even if this rule had not the sanction of Revelation, it expresses the view of the matter which uninstructed people are apt to take. It may be true that mere soothsaying is not the intention of pro phecy; but still they will think that if what the prophet says is not sooth he is no real prophet. And it is difficult to put them off with evasions. A fortune-teller accused of obtaining money on false pretences would plead in vain that though the actual good things she had promised were not fulfilled, her customers would find her predictions true, in the sense that if they had faith and patience something good would somehow, at some time or other, turn up. I remember what success Dr. Gumming had as an interpreter of Apocalyptic prophecy; how eagerly new books of his were welcomed, and by what thousands they were sold. But he did what St. John is said to have done, namely, venture on predictions, the truth of which the next following three or four years would test. Dr. Gumming was surely entitled to all the allowances for want of accuracy in his forecasts that can be demanded for the author on whom he commented; yet, when the things which he foretold did not come to pass, his credit fell and his books disappeared. And I see no reason to think that Christians in the first century were more indulgent critics of Apocalyptic predictions. And so I still feel that the success obtained by the Book of the Revelation of St. John throws a great difficulty in the way of our receiving the modern explanation of its design. If the book, considered as a prophecy, failed as completely as Dr. Cumming s, why did it not fall into the same oblivion as Dr. Cumming's books?
When I lay down one of those modern essays which claim to give a key to the meaning of the book, on the ground of a plausible explanation of three or four selected texts, and then take up the book itself, I find such a want of correspondence that I can only compare the case to a claim to have solved a double acrostic, advanced on the score of a fair guess at two or three of the lights, without any attempt being made to elucidate the rest. If the book was intended to assure the minds of Christians by informing them of the result of the siege of Jerusalem, or of the political movements of their own time, that idea is strangely cast into the background. It is only the opening chapters which appear to speak of then present events, and these are occupied not with temporal matters in Judea, but with the spiritual condition of the Churches of Asia Minor. The theme of the whole book is our Lord's second coming; it is only by laborious search that a verse here and there can be found, of which a political explanation can be offered. In order to accept the most successful of the explanations, a good deal of charitable allowance for vagueness must be made. If we are to con fine interpreters to the date they themselves fix, the reign of Galba (and a later date involves the abandonment of the key- text, that about the seven kings), at that time the blockade of Jerusalem had not been formed; and so the description (xi. 2) of the capture of the city, and of the treading down of the outer court of the Temple by the Gentiles, must be owned to have been suggested by nothing which had then actually occurred. It is idle to suppose, as some have done, that xvii. 16 refers to the burning of the Capitol, for that only took place in the subsequent contests between the parties of Vitellius and Vespasian: idle also to find references in the book to the assumption by Vespasian of miraculous power at Alexandria, or to his forbidding corn ships to sail to Rome: still more idle to find references to the supposed flight of Nero to Parthia. Take the book anywhere, and ask the interpreters to condescend to details, and point out how they are to be explained as referring to events in the reign of Galba, and they are at once at a loss. I have already referred to the discordance between interpreters of this school as to who is intended by the false prophet. Still less can they explain what is told about him. He works miracles; he brings fire down from heaven; he gives life to the image of the beast and makes it speak; he causes those that refuse to worship the beast's image to be killed; he causes all to receive the mark of the beast in their right hand or in their forehead; he permits no man to buy or sell who has not this mark.7 Who is there at the date in question who can be described as having done, or as being thought likely to do, any of these things? Renan explains the prohibition to buy or sell as referring to the use of the imperial effigy on coins, which a strict Jew would think it idolatrous to use. Our Lord's question, Whose is this image and superscription? may assure us that before the reign of Nero Jews had been asked to use such coins, and had made no scruple. Then again, who are the two witnesses (ch. xi.) from whose mouth fire proceeds to destroy their enemies, who have power to withhold rain and to smite the earth with other plagues, who are finally to be slain, and whose bodies are to lie three days and a-half in the streets of Jerusalem? I think that interpreters ought to be modest in their belief that they have got the right interpretation of the second verse of this chapter when hey must own that their method will not carry them a single verse further. On the whole, it seems to me that Dr. Gumming could find quite as many coincidences to justify his methods of interpretation as those on which the more recent school relies.
But it has been supposed that a demonstration of the correctness of the latter methods is afforded by the fact that the numerical value of the letters of Nero Caesar is 666, and that this is so unquestionably the right solution of the number of the beast, that we may regard Irenaeus's ignorance of it as a proof that he knew nothing about the matter. It seems to me, on the contrary, that a man must know very little of the history of the interpretations of this number if he can flatter himself that because he has found a word the numerical value of whose letters makes the required sum he is sure of having the true solution. Pages might be filled with a list of persons whose names have been proposed as solutions of the problem. Among the persons supposed to be indicated are the emperors Caligula, Titus, Trajan, and Julian the Apostate, Genseric the Vandal, Popes Benedict IX. and Paul V., Maho met, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Beza, Archbishop Laud, and Napoleon Bonaparte. There are three rules by the help of which I believe an ingenious man could find the required sum in any given name.8 First, if the proper name by itself will not yield it, add a title; secondly, if the sum cannot be found in Greek, try Hebrew, or even Latin; thirdly, do not be too particular about the spelling. The use of a language different from that to which the name properly belongs allows a good deal of latitude in the transliteration. For example, if Nero will not do, try Caesar Nero. If this will not succeed in Greek, try Hebrew; and in writing Kaisar in Hebrew be sure to leave out the Jod, which would make the sum too much by ten. We cannot infer much from the fact that a key fits the lock if it is a lock in which almost any key will turn. Irenaeus, I think, drew a very sensible inference from the multiplicity of solutions which he was himself able to offer. He says (v. 30): It is safer therefore and less hazardous to await the event of the prophecy than to try to guess or divine the name, since haply the same number may be found to suit many names. For if the names which are found to contain the same number prove to be many, which of them will be borne by the coming one will remain a matter of inquiry.
But it may be urged, that though we could not build much on the fact that the letters of Nero Caesar make 666, yet the correctness of this solution is assured by its also giving the explanation of the number 616. But not to say that it shares this advantage with other solutions containing a name ending in ων, let us consider what is assumed when we lay stress on the fact that a single name gives the explanation of two different numbers. It is assumed that the answer to the riddle must have been better known than the riddle itself. There must have been a wide knowledge that Nero Caesar was intended, and that the calculation was to be made in Hebrew letters, whereupon calculators who spelt the name differently adapted the number in their copies to the sum which they respectively brought out. But if there had been such widespread knowledge of the solution as is thus assumed, it is incredible that it should have been so completely lost when Irenaeus tried to learn what was known of the matter by the disciples of John, and was quite sure that the calculation was to be made by Greek letters. I think, therefore, that no interpreter at the present day is justified in feeling the assurance, professed by some, that his solution is the only right one.
Although I find myself unable to believe that Irenaeus could be entirely in error as to the whole object and drift of the Apocalypse, I do not see equal difficulty in the supposition that he might have been mistaken as to the date. I believe that it is an earlier book than the Gospel, both on account of the character of the Greek and for other reasons, on which see Westcott's Introduction (Speaker's Commentary, p. lxxxvi). Nor do I think the time soon after the death of Nero an improbable date. I am well disposed to adopt Kenan's conjecture that St. John had been in Rome and witnessed the Neronian persecution, and that his book was written while the impression made by those scenes of blood was still fresh (Rev. xvii. 6; xviii. 20, 24; vi. 9, 10).
In what precedes, I had more than once (pp. 29, 252) had occasion to point out that inferences drawn from verses here and there in the Apocalypse fail to commend themselves, when the whole book is taken into consideration. Since these lectures were published, Vischer, a German theological student, has found a way of meeting these difficulties, which has been enthusiastically adopted by his teacher Harnack. Thus, it is hoped to reconcile the supposed narrow Judaism of part of the work with the universalism of chap. vii., and the Neronic date deduced from chaps, xi., xii., xiii., xvii., with the tradition which places the book in the reign of Domitian. The theory, in short, is that the book is composite, being in the main a purely Jewish Apocalypse written about the year 69, but edited, some quarter of a century later, by a Christian who has prefixed an introduction, added a conclusion, and made occasional interpolations. If we desire to know what was the original Apocalypse, we are taught that we have nothing to do but strike out of our present text every phrase or sentence that betrays a knowledge of Christianity. It is not more difficult than that. In some cases the excision of a single phrase will suffice. Thus, for example, The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; Ye saints, and ye apostles, and ye prophets; Which keep the Commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus; The song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb. In all these cases we have only to strike out the words in italics. The rule, indeed, that the words the Lamb must be struck out wherever they occur embarrasses us a little on their first introduction (v. 6), where the seals of the book are described as opened by a Lamb standing as though it had been slain. When these words are struck out, who is left to open the seals? Vischer suggests, that v. 5 would lead us to think that what had stood in the original was a lion, not a lamb. In other cases whole verses have to be left out; for Christian verses will intrude themselves in the most improper places. For instance, the kernel of the whole composition is said to be chaps, xi. and xii., in which the purely Jewish character of the book is most unmistakeably manifested. Yet in chap. xi. there is a verse (v. 8) which must be cancelled as mentioning the city where our Lord was crucified; and in chap, xii., another (v. 12), which Vischer likewise finds it necessary to strike out. I will not delay to speak of some longer passages which must be cancelled, such as v. 9-14, vii. 9-17, xiv. 1-5, and above all, the introduction consisting of three chapters. It is to be noted that, when these are removed, a fearful wound is made; for the original Jewish Apocalypse, as Vischer prints it, begins: After these things I saw, and behold a door opened in heaven; and the first voice which I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me. It is clear that the original Apocalypse must have contained, if not our present introduction, some other introduction, and one agreeing with the present in including a verse like i. 10, in which mention is made of a voice like that of a trumpet. Vischer conjectures that the original introduction named as the seer one of the old prophets.
It is difficult to encounter an antagonist who comes arrayed in impenetrable armour, or it would be more correct to say, one who runs away from every blow. It is hard to refute a theorist who feels himself at liberty to reject as an interpolation every passage inconsistent with his theory. Mr. Chase has shown9 that it can be demonstrated in the same way that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians is a purely Jewish document with a few Christian interpolations. I dare say it would be possible to set the epistles of Phalaris on their legs again, by striking out all the passages in which Bentley pointed out notes of modernness; and it would be worth the while of a Roman Catholic advocate to try whether, by judicious readiness to surrender every assailed position, he might not be able to find in the Decretal Epistles, after a few excisions had been made, a genuine collection of early Papal letters. True, he would have to face the objection that the Decretal Epistles exhibit complete unity of style; but Vischer has to encounter this same objection, for the very peculiar character of the Greek of the first three chapters pervades the entire book. So he modifies his hypothesis by the supposition that the original Apocalypse was in Aramaic, and that it is because the editor was translator as well, that we find his style im pressed on the whole book. But the introduction is connected with what follows, not only by unity of style, but by several cross-references. Thus, compare ii. 7, xxii. 2; ii. n, xx. 6, xxi. 8; ii. 16, xix. 21; ii. 17, xix. 12, xxii. 4; ii. 27, xix. 15, xii. 5; iii. 5, xx. 15; iii. 12, xxi. 10, xxii. 4; iii. 21, v. 6, xx. 4. Sabatier,10 who points out these and other coincidences, though he has persuaded himself of the use of a Jewish document in the later chapters, finds it impossible to discover any breach of continuity in the earlier chapters of the book.
Vischer urges as an argument in favour of his hypothesis that the number of interpolations he is obliged to assume is extremely small; but this fact really tells the other way. For the writer of the first three chapters must surely have been a man of considerable fertility of imagination; and though we may admit it to be possible that in writing a book of prophetic visions he may have used ideas suggested to him by some previously published apocalypse, we cannot think it likely that he would have just slavishly copied that earlier book, merely throwing in a Christian phrase here and there. If it is said that, being himself a Jew by birth and training, and in habits of thought, he was quite satisfied with an apocalypse as Jewish as that which he has adapted, where is the impossibility of his having written it? The difficulty is increased when we find that the Christian editor is not anonymous. He claims to be, if not the Apostle John, as the Christian Church, from the time of Justin Martyr downwards has supposed, at least a personage well known to the Churches of Asia, to whom his letter was addressed. He tells them of visions which he had seen, and which our Lord in person had charged him to write in a book and send it to these Churches. The pronoun I runs through the book, which closes by repeating the assertion that it was John himself who had seen these things and heard them. Previous critics who recognized in the book no divine revelation could at least think respectfully of the writer whose imagination had been fired in brooding over the great events of his time, and who sincerely believed him self to be commissioned to deliver a prophetic message. But now we are asked to think of him as a cold-blooded literary forger, who has got hold of the work of an earlier writer, and making some trivial changes in it, passes it off as his own. And what a terrible risk he ran! A Christian who found a Jewish apocalypse ascribed to Enoch, or Ezra, or Baruch, if he preserved the title, could, without much danger of ex posure, add a few touches to improve the doctrinal teaching of the book. If the improved edition fell into the hands of one acquainted with the older form, it might not be difficult to persuade him that the fuller form was the genuine one. But it would be a very different thing if a reader detected that the revelations which John claimed to have seen and heard himself were nothing but transcripts from a work ascribed to one of the elder prophets. What should we think of anyone now who should copy verbatim the 6th of Isaiah, and publish it as an account of something that had happened to himself? Or, since such conduct is scarce conceivable, what would be thought of the author of a book of travels, if it was discovered that whole pages had been copied from an earlier book of travels, and if all the adventures which the elder traveller had passed through were told as having happened to the younger. It would surely be said that he was an impostor who had never been in the countries which he described. Literary morality may not have been as strict in the first century as in the nineteenth; but it never could have been lax enough to tolerate plagiarism of the kind ascribed to St. John.
Sabatier's theory in some measure escapes this objection. He points out that the plan of the book is a scheme of seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials; and he considers that, as the opening of the seventh seal introduces the seven trumpets, so ought the sounding of the seventh trumpet to introduce the seven vials. But, in point of fact, between the sounding of the seventh trumpet (xi. 15) and the pouring out of the vials (ch. xvi.) there is a great interruption. We have interpolated (ch. xii.) the vision of the birth of the Messiah, the vision of the beast and the false prophet (ch. xiii.), and the judgment of the great whore (xvii., xviii.). This intrusive matter Sabatier regards as derived from an earlier non-Christian source; and he considers that the author has made sufficient acknowledgment of obligation in his account (x. 8) of a little book given him by an angel. Anyone who might chance to have been previously acquainted with the interpolated section would perceive that John did not give it as part of his own visions, but as the contents of the little book which he then received.
Now, in the first place, without laying any stress on the special character of the Apocalypse, it would be thought strange criticism even of a book of the present day if it were inferred that, because an author had not carried out his plans with perfect regularity, therefore he must be stealing his materials from some independent source. Why, the most eminent writers of fiction have complained that in the act of composition they lose command of their pen, which seems as if it had a will of its own: characters meant to be subordinate assume a place not intended for them; and what had been de signed to be a mere episode swells into a principal part of the story. But it is more important to observe that the questioned chapters do not, as Vischer and Sabatier suppose, differ from the rest of the book, or betray a distinctly Judaic non-Christian character. Thus, for instance, we are told that the Messiah, born in the 12th chapter, is not Jesus Christ. I will not dwell on one supposed proof, which can be easily answered, viz. that the Apocalypse deals with the future, and therefore that we cannot have here a Christian reference to a past event. But it is said that there is not a word about the Crucifixion or the historic life of Jesus. The Messiah is born, and then at once caught up to the throne of God. But it must be remembered that the chapter in the Apocalypse is symbolical: the scene is laid in heaven; so that we could not expect to read of the Crucifixion or any other event of our Lord's earthly life. But the whole conception of the 12th chapter is essentially Christian. It tells of a Messiah whose triumph is delayed, and whose course begins in persecution. This chapter occurs in that stage of the visions when the seventh trumpet has sounded, when, as we are told (x. 7), the mystery of God is finished, according to the good tidings which He declared to His servants the prophets. The sounding of the trumpet is received with acclamation in heaven: The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord (xi. 15). Then comes the appearance of him who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron (xii. 5). Surely if this had been a purely Jewish Apocalypse we should read of the Messiah coming in victory and triumph. Instead of that, he is only born as a child; he is persecuted with such violence that the woman who has borne him must flee into the wilderness; and, in order to preserve his own life, he must be caught up to the throne of God. It is not until chap. xix. 11 that we read of the coming of the Messiah from heaven; the whole description having many striking resemblances with the Christian expectation, as stated 2 Thess. i. 7, 8, that the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God. It seems to me certain that no Jew, ignorant of our Lord's history, would have formed such an expectation of the appearance of his Messiah as is presented in chap, xii.
Again, the section on the fall of Babylon is supposed to express only the undying animosity of the Jew against the Roman. There is something more: the animosity is against the city of Rome. We could understand a mere Jew being full of indignation against Roman domination, as exercised in his own land or in the provinces; but in this case it is in the city of Rome that is found the blood of prophets and of saints (xviii. 24); this woman is drunk with the blood of the saints (xvii. 6): see also xviii. 20. I have allowed Vischer to erase the mention of the blood of the martyrs of Jesus in xvii. 6; but it seems to me that the whole description is unintelligible if we suppose anything else referred to than the slaughter of Christians in the Neronic persecution. Jews were not persecuted for their religion by the Romans as they had been in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes; certainly we know nothing of the kind as happening in Rome itself. I think we can also trace the hand of one who had personally visited Rome in the magnificent description (ch. xviii.) of the mercantile greatness of the city. We naturally think of Rome as the seat of empire; but I do not think it would have occurred to one who had not witnessed the throng of merchants and the abundance of all manner of precious things which they had brought in, to give such a description of Rome as might seem suitable only to a commercial city like Tyre.
Lastly, I do not understand how Vischer and Sabatier can reconcile with their system their adherence to what has now become the traditional rationalistic explanation of xi. 2, viz. that we have here a false prophecy that in the siege of Jerusalem the enemy should not succeed in capturingmore than the outer court of the Temple which they were to hold for forty-two months. How those within were to be provisioned for that time we are not told. But, according to the theory of Vischer and Sabatier, we have in the Book of the Revelation a work published by a Christian who lived long enough after the siege of Jerusalem to know that the capture of the city, Temple and all, had been complete. If he found the verse xi. 2, as is alleged, in a previous document he could not possibly have understood it, as do our modern interpreters, else he would have known the book to be a false prophecy, not worth the trouble he bestowed on it. He must, therefore, have interpreted the passage symbolically, and have regarded the temple that was measured as being not the material Temple in Jerusalem, but its prototype in heaven. And so likewise with the first readers of the book. If there had been, as Vischer imagines, a previous Apocalypse in Aramaic it must have been unknown to the first readers of the present book, otherwise our author would not have ventured to plagiarize from it so largely. These readers, every one of whom well knew that the Temple was utterly destroyed, could not have put the modern interpretation on this passage. What then can be more paradoxical than to hold that the only legitimate interpretation of a book is one that was not dreamed of, either by him who first published it, or by its first readers?
1) See the authorities quoted by Renan, L' Antechrist, p. 407.
2) I note here that it is an attempt to combine inconsistent hypotheses when quotations are accumulated which speak of the belief that Nero had fled to Parthia, and when this belief is ascribed to the Apocalyptist. For we only hear of Parthia in connexion with Nero full twenty years after that emperor's death; and naturally it would not be until after all trace of him had disappeared from the West that the imagination would spring up that he was hiding in the distant East. If, as Renan would have it, John wrote in the reign of Galba, and believed the impostor of Cythnos to be the veritable Nero redivivus, he could not also believe Nero to be then lurking in Parthia. On this subject may be consulted Arnold, Die Neronische Christenverfolgung, sect. viii.
3) There are rival claimants for the honour of this discovery Fritzsche, JBenary, Reuss, and Hitzig. See Farrar, Expositor, p. 347.
5) On this subject Davidson says (Introduction, i 276), Irenaeus calls the emperor Domitian; Epiphanius calls him Claudius; the Syriac version of the Apocalypse, Nero, with which Theophylact agrees. Davidson omitted to caution his readers that all these authorities are not of equal value, but I find it not superfluous to add this warning. The student cannot too early learn to disregard writers cited as authorities, if they have no real knowledge of the matters in respect of which their testimony is appealed to. In the present case, Irenaeus deserves to be listened to, for he claims, as I have said, to be able to report the testimony of those who had seen John face to face. We may have good reasons for rejecting his statement, but among good reasons cannot be reckoned the opposing testimony of writers whose authority in opposition to his is absolutely insignificant. Concerning Epiphanius I have spoken, p. 168. He probably got the Claudian date, which is certainly wrong, from the Apocryphal acts of Leucius, which will be described in a later lecture. The Syriac version referred to is certainly not earlier than the sixth century, and there is no evidence to show that the superscription which mentions Nero is as old as the version. Of Theophylact, it is enough to say that he lived at the end of the eleventh century.
6) τοῦ λόγου διδάσκοντος ἡμᾶς, ὅτι ὁ ἀριθμὸς τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ θηρίου κατὰ τὴν τῶν Ἑλλήνων ψῆφον διὰ τῶν ἐν αὐτῷ γραμμάτων [ἐμφαίνεται, Euseb. H. E. v. 8] sexcentos habebit et sexaginta et sex (Lat. trans., Iren. v. 30). I suspect that Eusebius, in abridging his extract, has slightly distorted the meaning. He makes Irenaeus say that reason teaches that the calculation must be made by Greek letters, which seems a bold assertion. But I take it that what Irenaeus looks on as established by the arguments he has used is, that the numerical value of the Greek letters in the name of the beast must make, not 616, but six hundreds, six tens, six units. But either way he takes for granted, without doubt, that the calculation must be made by Greek numerals.
7) Neither Farrar's nor Kenan's explanation of this is so natural as that we have here a plain prediction of boycotting; and sure enough παρρνέλλος makes 666. But seriously, exclusion from ordinary traffic was a common result of the calumnies circulated against Christians (see the letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, Euseb. v. I, a document which quotes the Apocalypse as Scripture).
8) I remember that I once sent to Bishop Fitz Gerald a proof that 666 was the sum of the letters of the name of some opponent at the time, but was rash enough to add that I believed that no retaliation could be made either on his name or mine. In reply he presented me with the solution מַר שׂלְמוֹן but he added the Horatian caution:
Young computers must be warned against an error into which some have fallen, viz. that of confounding the Episemon, which denotes six in the Greek arithmetical notation, either with the final sigma, or with the comparatively modern abbreviation for err, which printers now use also for the Episemon, thereby so misleading simple readers, that I have found in a scientific article the information that the name of the numerical sign is Stau! It need hardly be said that no light is cast on the number 666 by observing how it looks when expressed in modern cursive characters. In extant uncial MSS. the number is written in words at length, and Irenaeus appears to have so read it in his own MS., though he conjectures that the various reading 616 originated in MSS. where the number was written in letters. His words are (v. 30), Hoc autem arbitror scriptorum peccatum fuisse, ut solet fieri, quoniam et per literas numeri ponuntur, facile literam Grae- cam quae sexaginta emmtiat numerum, in iota Graecorum literam expansam. (See Heumann in Biblioth. Brem., i. p. 869; Godet, BibL Studies, N. T., p. 353, Lyttleton's Transl.; Farrar, Early Days of Christianity, Bk. iv.> c. xxviii.'s. 5).
9) Expositor, ill. v. 179.
10) Les origines litteraires et la composition de V Apocalypse de Saint Jean, extrait de la Revue de theologie et de philosophic.