Preterism, Nero and Domitian

Was Revelation written under Emperor Claudine Nero? What basis do some preterists have in making the claim that it was, when history records a different story altogether? We are going to examine the internal and external evidence, hoping to address this matter for the historical preterist and to be further equipped orthodoxly, yet still be able to accept the preteristc principles within the theme, text, and directive.

In reality, it boils to several key points that preterists tend to argue. The most popular historical source among pre-70 AD dating preterists, is the “alleged” discrepancy for the text of Irenaeus in Against Heresies, Book V. Chap 30.

We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.”

The statement made, for it was seen, is questioned by some modern scholars to have been the result of a copying error, or a mistranslation of the ancient scholars themselves.  The preterist will argue that it should read “for he was seen” freeing themselves from the historical record that affirms a post 70 AD dating and allowing him carte blanche to interpret the book to have been written under Nero, and not Domitian, as the text seems to infer.

Irenaeus, unlike modern scholars, was historically relative to John, as was his successors who followed in similar conclusions, basing themselves from the early father’s statement made about when the authorship of John of Patmos’ apocalypse took place.  It could be argued that it would be irresponsible, as modern scholars and layman alike, to question the proximity in which this man lived, and his interpretation, and their understanding of the ancient languages in which they spoke. It could be seen as careless for anyone to think, that Eusebius, just over a hundred years following Irenaeus, would incorrectly transcribe and translate his letter concerning the text in question, and thrust the historic church into a falsity concerning the dating of the apocalypse it was seen to be or had been written, or what it pertains to specifically and generally.  We must separate ourselves from arrogant enlightenment, and trust the proximity of their acquaintance. Yet there is much more ground to tackle than just allowing ourselves to conserve the testimony of his peers and their proximity to John.

Conservative preterist scholars, like Dr. Kenneth Gentry, appear to fall into this trap of claiming such irresponsibility in the historical record, interpreting a presupposed error on their part, to have actually taken place in such near proximity to one another. Yet Dr. Gentry, as some other conservative scholars who promote the early date of the apocalypse, rally their support for the internal evidence based on areas like Rev 11:1-2 and Rev 17:10 as time indicative statements as to when it was written under Nero or shortly after (pre 70 AD), thus concluding that these particular themes in scripture, confirm their presuppositions. However, the problem thus arises for preterists like Kenneth Gentry that the internal evidence, under contextual relevance to the audience of the time and era, clearly runs into patrological consensus and gives rise to support a later date from within. These preterite conclusions are based on peculiar interpretations of the text, which is often in conflict with orthodoxy nonetheless. There is no church father that supports an early date, and it is through this challenge that us as orthodox, historical preterists, must define our stance, and question sensitively, their motives and revelations.  It is through the universal consensus, the proximity to the apocalypse, and the benefactors to the discipleship of the author, John, that must be addressed, supported and analyzed, covering the common arguments used for early date preterists, as well as the intricate themes that surround them.

As history records, there were only two Roman Caesars who persecuted Christians on a scale comparable to what Revelation may suggest or be inferred to, considering John of Patmos is alleged to have died at the close of the first, or just following the turn of the second century. These Roman emperors were Nero and Domitian. There were those that followed them that sent our gracious brethren to their martyred deaths indeed, but historically, tyrants by name, as is recorded, Nero and Domitian fit the bill. Nero is responsible for the deaths of Paul and Peter, yet there is no evidence or historical record that Nero banished Christians, including John, to Patmos. Nero had a preference for keeping his atrocities much closer to home, as his actions against the Christian church were local and short lived, and his disturbed purge fueled by the fire in Rome, not based or founded on the Christian’s unwillingness to submit to him as god or the son of god. Yet, this persecution was the first time the government of Rome differentiated Christians from Jews. Tertulian referred to this as institutum Neronianum which was written describing the persecutions starting with Nero and those who followed in his footsteps(1)  After Nero it became a capital crime to be one, unless you renounced Christ publicly and acknowledged the Roman gods. ”Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ– none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged.” (2Nero did not, as William Henry Simcox states in Revelation of St. John the Divine, “reign and claim divine honors..” to anything as suggested in Revelation. It can be argued based on the varying degrees in which Christian persecutions took place during Nero or Domitian’s reign, or even whether they existed at all. But in the end, the patrological consensus attribute that they did indeed exist pointing directly to these two men, and it is believed to be first rate.

Domitian, on the other hand, is not only patrologically supported, it is also internally supported, panoramically outlining the resistance to cultism, obedience to the God of Israel, namely Jesus Christ, and refusing to acknowledge pagan gods and/or Caesar as divine, Rev 13:4,12, something that which Nero, of all people, in his malignant tirades against Christians, and his psychotic behavior among his own kind, never required worship from anyone. During a brief interlude in the first century, emperor worship was short lived, by Nero’s brother Caligula. Its scale is also highly questionable, based on the sheer lunacy resulting from Caligula’s upbringing. After the death of his father and mother, he was indoctrinated into the world of Tiberius’ mental instabilities during his last years as Caesar. Caligula, is the most likely candidate for the texts like 2 Thes 2:3-4, (3) that “we have to take seriously Paul’s language of deity for the ‘lawless one” (4), and not Nero. His desire to be worshiped in genius, is a precursor to what lay ahead in the future for the oppressive relationship between Rome and the church of God. Nero didn’t live up to standards set in Revelation, but overall, the Roman Empire, beginning with the first king of the Julio-Claudine line, Augustus, who like “Caligula may simply be taking the Augustan precedent a step further by introducing worship of his numen to Rome and by moving from an altar to a temple.” (5). This was unmistakably brought to light towards the end of Titus’ reign and most specifically, in his brother Domitian.

David Chilton writes, “St. Irenaeus, incidentally, is the only source for this late dating of Revelation; all other ‘sources’ are simply quoting from him. It is thus rather disingenuous for commentators to claim, as Swete does, that ‘Early Christian tradition is almost unanimous in assigning the Apocalypse to the last years of Domitian.’” (6).  This statement made by Chilton, is favored among many in Preterism, including Dr. Gentry, a post-millenial preterist.

Jacob Michael, in Dating the Apocalypse of St. John: Was it written before or After Jerusalem Fell, says “Which reading is the correct reading? If we take a closer look at the whole statement, the translation “for he [John] was seen not long ago” seems to make more sense. The point that St. Irenaeus is making here is that it was not necessary for the Antichrist to be revealed by name “at the present time”; and the reason he gives is that if it were necessary, then St. John himself would have “declared” the matter. He then follows this by saying, or so it seems, that St. John could have made the Antichrist known (had he wanted to) because he was still alive only decades ago, near the end of Domitian’s reign.

Could this simply be an assertion for the presupposition that it was, or is it a lexical attempt in an honest reading of his statement, coupled with the nearness of the patrological fathers that succeeded his statement, independent of him or not? Based on Irenaeus’ statement provided earlier, and the following historical records should stimulate the reader as to whether the Revelation was recorded earlier than 70 AD, or during the reign of Domitian.

Starting with Eusebius, it is clear he used other sources to confirm Irenaeus’ statements. “It is said that in this persecution [Domitian’s] the apostle and evangelist John, who was still alive, was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos in consequence of his testimony to the divine word. Irenaeus, in the fifth book of his work Against Heresies, where he discusses the number of the name of Antichrist which is given in the so-called Apocalypse of John, speaks as follows concerning him: ‘If it were necessary for his name to be proclaimed openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the Revelation. For it was seen not long ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.’ To such a degree, indeed, did the teaching of our faith flourish at that time that even those writers who were far from our religion did not hesitate to mention in their histories the persecution and the martyrdoms which took place during it. And they, indeed, accurately indicated the time. For they recorded that in the fifteenth year of Domitian Flavia Domitilla, daughter of a sister of Flavius Clement, who at that time was one of the consuls of Rome, was exiled with many others to the island of Pontia in consequence of testimony borne to Christ” (7).

Tertullian also has mentioned Domitian in the following words: ‘Domitian also, who possessed a share of Nero’s cruelty, attempted once to do the same thing that the latter did. But because he had, I suppose, some intelligence, he very soon ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished.’ But after Domitian had reigned fifteen years, and Nerva had succeeded to the empire, the Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that Domitian’s horrors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them. It was at this time that the apostle John returned from his banishment in the island and took up his abode at Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition (8).

Victorinus as well supports the Domitian dating. His work is completely independent of Eusebius. “And He says unto me, Thou must again prophesy to the peoples, and to the tongues, and to the nations, and to many kings.” He says this, because when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian. There, therefore, he saw the Apocalypse; and when grown old, he thought that he should at length receive his quittance by suffering, Domitian being killed, all his judgments were discharged. And John being dismissed from the mines, thus subsequently delivered the same Apocalypse which he had received from God. This, therefore, is what He says: Thou must again prophesy to all nations, because thou seest the crowds of Antichrist rise up; and against them other crowds shall stand, and they shall fall by the sword on the one side and on the other.” (9) ”The time must be understood in which the written Apocalypse was published, since then reigned Caesar Domitian; but before him had been Titus his brother, and Vespasian, Otho, Vitellius, and Galba.” (10)

Clement of Alexandria as well, supports the Domitian dating. “And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.” (11) The “tyrant’s death” must only refer to Nero or Domitian, since they were the only ones who persecuted Christians on a scale that could be comparable to what Revelation suggests as under the context of a late 1st century text.

Lactantius also supports this. “After an interval of some years from the death of Nero, there arose another tyrant no less wicked (Domitian), who, although his government was exceedingly odious, for a very long time oppressed his subjects, and reigned in security, until at length he stretched forth his impious hands against the Lord. Having been instigated by evil demons to persecute the righteous people, he was then delivered into the power of his enemies, and suffered due punishment.” (12)

Clement discusses the exoneration of those who were exiled during his reign correlating with Eusebius’ statement of Domitian’s death. This emperor justifiably cannot refer to Nero as Clement refers to John as being an old man, which would not have been possible in 70 AD. “Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thy father, unarmed, old? Son, pity me. Fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death, as the Lord did death for us. For thee I will surrender my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me….And he, when he heard, first stood, looking down; then threw down his arms, then trembled and wept bitterly. And on the old man approaching, he embraced him, speaking for himself with lamentations as he could, and baptized a second time with tears, concealing only his right hand. The other pledging, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness for himself from the Savior, beseeching and failing on his knees, and kissing his right hand itself, as now purified by repentance, led him back to the church.” (13)

It is also clear that John was alive until after the reign of Domitian from Irenaeus’ references to Polycarp, John’s disciple.  Polycarp was born in 65 AD and died in 155 AD. Polycarp would be two years old when Nero died and five years old when Jerusalem was overrun and the temple destroyed. Since Polycarp was taught by John, it had to have been decades after the siege of Jerusalem and Temple’s destruction.  Jerome testifies to the same, and also mentions Irenaeus and Justin Martyr as writing commentaries on the same connection between Domitian and Patmos. Notice how Jerome mentions Nero, but bypasses him to make the connection between Domitian and John’s exile to Patmos: “In the fourteenth year then after Nero, Domitian having raised a second persecution he was banished to the island of Patmos, and wrote the Apocalypse, on which Justin Martyr and Irenaeus afterwards wrote commentaries. But Domitian having been put to death and his acts, on account of his excessive cruelty, having been annulled by the senate, he returned to Ephesus under Pertinax and continuing there until the tithe of the emperor Trajan, founded and built churches throughout all Asia, and, worn out by old age, died in the sixty-eighth year after our Lord’s passion and was buried near the same city.” (14)

We maybe sure that John was then a boy because ecclesiastical history most clearly proves that he lived to the reign of Trajan, that is, he fell asleep in the sixty-eighth year after our Lord’s passion, as I have briefly noted in my treatise on Illustrious Men. Peter is an Apostle, and John is an Apostle – the one a married man, the other a virgin; but Peter is an Apostle only, John is both an Apostle and an Evangelist, and a prophet. An Apostle, because he wrote to the Churches as a master; an Evangelist, because he composed a Gospel, a thing which no other of the Apostles, excepting Matthew, did; a prophet, for he saw in the island of Patmos, to which he had been banished by the Emperor Domitian  As a martyr for the Lord, an Apocalypse containing the boundless mysteries of the future Tertullian, moreover, relates that he was sent to Rome, and that having been plunged into a jar of boiling oil he came out fresher and more active than when he went in. (15)

Sulpitius Severus:  “Then, after an interval, Domitian, the son of Vespasian, persecuted the Christians. At this date, he banished John the Apostle and Evangelist to the island of Patmos. There he, secret mysteries having been revealed to him, wrote and published his book of the holy Revelation, which indeed is either foolishly or impiously not accepted by many.“  (16)

Affirmation of the church fathers:  “The same is the recorded judgment of Jerome; the same of Augustine’s friend, Orosius; the same of Sulpitius Severus. Once more, we find an unhesitating statement of similar purport in Primasius; an eminent Augustinian commentator on the Apocalypse, of the sixth century. In his Preface to this Commentary, he speaks of the Apocalyptic visions having been seen by St. John when banished and condemned to the mines in Patmos by the Emperor Domitian.” (17)

Hippolytus:  “John, again, in Asia, was banished by Domitian the king to the isle of Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic vision; and in Trajan’s time he fell asleep at Ephesus, where his remains were sought for, but could not be found(18).  On the Testimony of Epiphanius, E.B. Elliott says: “Nor can it be wondered at: seeing that as to any contrary statement on the point in question, there appears to have been none whatsoever until the time of Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, in the latter half of the fourth century: …whose chief work, On Heresies, is decried … as ‘full of blots and errors, through the levity and ignorance of the author:’ …For he speaks of St. John having prophesied when in the isle of Patmos, in the days of the Emperor Claudius: –a time when… it does not appear from history that there was any imperial persecution of the Christian body whatsoever…(19)

…another testimony to the early date of the Apocalypse. The subscription to a Syriac version of the book, written about the beginning of the sixth century, is thus worded; ‘The Revelation which was made by God to John the Evangelist in the island of Patmos, whither he was banished by the Emperor Nero.’ But of what value is this opinion, then first broached, as it would appear?” (20)

Elliott goes on as well to say that Domitian was known by the name Nero throughout the ancient world, and often referred to as such, resulting in some confusion scholars have with Nero and Domitian.  “May not the mistake have arisen from Domitian having sometimes the title of Nero given him; and in fact the original writer of the Syriac subscription have meant Domitian, not Nero?” He includes in this footnote further proofs given in Latin of this title applying to Domitian (21).

The Acts of John shows John the Revelator was exiled under Domitian:  “And the fame of the teaching of John was spread abroad in Rome; and it came to the ears of Domitian that there was a certain Hebrew in Ephesus, John by name, who spread a report about the seat of empire of the Romans, saying that it would quickly be rooted out, and that the kingdom of the Romans would be given over to another. And Domitian, troubled by what was said, sent a centurion with soldiers to seize John, and bring him. And having gone to Ephesus, they asked where John lived.  And when all were glorifying God, and wondering at the faith of John, Domitian said to him: I have put forth a decree of the senate, that all such persons should be summarily dealt with, without trial; but since I find from thee that they are innocent, and that their religion is rather beneficial, I banish thee to an island, that I may not seem myself to do away with my own decrees. He asked then that the condemned criminal should be let go; and when he was let go, John said: Depart, give thanks to God, who has this day delivered thee from prison and from death.  And having prayed, he raised her up. And Domitian, astonished at all the wonders, sent him away to an island, appointing for him a set time. And straightway John sailed to Patmos, where also he was deemed worthy to see the revelation of the end. And when Domitian was dead, Nerva succeeded to the kingdom, and recalled all who had been banished; and having kept the kingdom for a year, he made Trajan his successor in the kingdom. And when he was king over the Romans, John went to Ephesus, and regulated all the teaching of the church, holding many conferences, anti reminding them of what the Lord had said to them, and what duty he had assigned to each. And when he was old and changed, he ordered Polycarp to be bishop over the church.” (22)

This affirms the Eusebius’ account:  ”But after Domitian had reigned fifteen years, and Nerva had succeeded to the empire, the Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that Domitian’s honors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them. It was at this time that the apostle John returned from his banishment in the island and took up his abode at Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition.” (23)

At that time the apostle and evangelist John, the one whom Jesus loved, was still living in Asia, and governing the churches of that region, having returned after the death of Domitian from his exile on the island. 2. And that he was still alive at that time may be established by the testimony of two witnesses. They should be trustworthy who have maintained the orthodoxy of the Church; and such indeed were Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. 3. The former in the second book of his work Against Heresies, writes as follows: “And all the elders that associated with John the disciple of the Lord in Asia bear witness that John delivered it to them. For he remained among them until the time of Trajan.” 4. And in the third book of the same work he attests the same thing in the following words: “But the church in Ephesus also, which was founded by Paul, and where John remained until the time of Trajan, is a faithful witness of the apostolic tradition.” 5. Clement likewise in his book entitled What Rich Man can be saved? Indicates the time, and subjoins a narrative which is most attractive to those that enjoy hearing what is beautiful and profitable. Take and read the account which rims as follows: 6. “Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant’s death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit. (24).

Full Preterists, including liberal scholar J.A.T. Robinson (25) and Post-milleinal Preterist Kenneth Gentry (26) often contend that the Syriac version of the Apocalypse of St. John attests to that the book was written during the time of Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus, otherwise known as Emperor Nero, who ruled Rome from 54-68 AD.

Arthur Ogden uses in support of an early date is the Syriac Version.  Steve Hamilton quotes Odgen, “The Syriac Version of the New Testament, which is the oldest version of the New Testament, dating all the way back to the second century, places the Revelation in the period of Nero, 68 A.D.” The oldest Syriac Version of the New Testament is called the Peschito. “The Old Syriac Peschito version does not contain the Apocalypse.” Subsequent Syriac versions do include the Book of Revelation but not the oldest one that dates back to the second century.”

“The reason Ogden made such a bold statement concerning the Syriac Version of the New Testament is due to a title inserted into a translation known as the Syriac Vulgate Bible that was dated to the 6th century. This uninspired title asserts that John wrote the Apocalypse in Patmos where he was sent by Nero Caesar. The title is not part of any earlier manuscript from which that version was translated. Therefore, it is 6th century evidence and not 2nd century evidence as implied in his statement.” (27)

The Syriac Version of the Apocalypse of St. John opens up with this:

“The Revelation, which was made by God to John the Evangelist, in the island of Patmos, to which he was banished by Nero the Emperor.”

The two pieces of evidence regarding this inference on full and partial preterists are the above Syriac Version, published by Lud. de Dieu No.18 which was ascribed the sixth century AD and Theophylact (1107 AD). Stephen Le Moyne (28) attested to the fact that the Syriac most likely referred to the 2nd Nero Titus Flavias Domitianus Augustus, and not the 1st Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus.  Juvenal, in his Satires book iv. 37, a 2nd century work on Domitian, says he is Flavius and Nero.

“Cum jam semianimim laceraret Flavius orbem
Ultimus, et calvo serviret Roma Neroni.”

Domitian was known for his desire to be worshiped as the son of god (Rev 13:16) in which Nero was not known for this desire, nor did he plague his citizens to do so in any way, shape or form.  Not only did he not seek this from his citizens, his plight against the Christian elect was based on sheer lunacy and solely focused as a result passing childish blame onto the Christian community.  It would have mattered little, if not at all to pagans like Suetonius, who never made the connection between the fire and Christians. The blame was set on Nero throughout the  pagan circles, even though he decided to change his lunatic tirades on the growing Christian groups.  This as well is not mentioned in the text of the Apocalypse, and can be easily deduced as eisegetical error. The cruelty and executions during Domitian’s reign of terror were so odious that he earned the nickname “the Beast” amongst Romans, Greeks, Christians and Jews. (29).

This contention, coupled with some inadequate questioning on Mr. Gentry’s part (as most partial preterists have fallen for the same argument) regarding the mishandling of the Irenaeus text, is not only falsely rooted on irresponsible historical investigation, but it is as well far removed from the relevant environment in which these men lived. I believe, as a historical preterist, Irenaeus is solid and first rate, being that he penned this in close proximity to the life of the apostle, who in turn, was a pupil of Polycarp, who was in turn the pupil of John who wrote the apocalypse.  To question this is not only arbitrary, but without any merit.  Gentry says, ”The closer we get to the year 2000, the farther we get from the events of Revelation.”

Amen. He should have never went there with Irenaeus. Proximity will trump anything he ever has to say on the subject.

John A.T. Robinson likewise falls into the same trap as Dr. Gentry, assuming that just because there is no mention to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which is incorrect as there are several instances in the apocalypse that covers the catastrophe that befalls Jerusalem with highly symbolic language.  Rev 11:1-2 apocalyptically refers to the temple grounds after the destruction of the temple (cf. Luke 21:24 where Christ mentions that the end of the temple period marks the beginning for the Time of the Gentiles, a theme Paul expanded on in Romans 11 and by John in Rev 22:2). John carefully describes by using Ezekiel’s spiritual measurement of the people of God (Eze 40:3-5; 42:16-19) as the fulfilled temple (John 2:19) juxtaposed against the reality that the physical grounds have already been overthrown by the Romans. Robinson as well, even though supporting an earlier date, thus covering his own tracks within the orthodox church, alluding to the literary support for the Domitian banishment under his co-regent with Vespasian, just not the date of his reign. This is one of his amplified cases against the late date, which in fact, isn’t very strong to say the least. Mr Robinson goes on to say in his book (aforementioned): “…in December 69, Vespasian was acclaimed emperor. But for the first half of 70 he was occupied in Alexandria while his elder son Titus was engaged upon the siege of Jerusalem. His younger son, Domitian, the sole representative of the family of Rome, accepted the name of Caesar and the impartial residence, and was invested with full consular authority, his name being placed at the head of all dispatches and edicts….So he was banished by Domitian and restored by Nerva, as the tradition says…” Mr. Robinson’s argument is largely supported on the fact that there is no mention of the fall of the temple or Jerusalem in the any of the text, other than prophetic firefighting and possibly “assumed to be written up after the event.”(ibid pg 13). When you have scholars that are paired up with preterist literature falling into historical errors such as this, often times the theology will become askew. The preterite pastoral community and their congregations too make the same mistakes based on for the most part, irresponsibly mishandling historical sources.

This irresponsibility carries on further into the Gematria text of Rev 13:18.  Preterists that accept the liberal conclusions believing the sum of this text refers to Neron Kaser, the Hebrew version of Nero Caesar to have equaled numerical value of 666.  This is etymologically incorrect.  In summation, the desired Hebrew spelling of the Roman Emperor Nero’s name is Nrwn Qsr (Neron Kaiser). This name allegedly results in the numerical value is 666.16 according to Jastrow’s lexicon of the Talmud. Catherine Cory has identified the number as having symbolic correlation to the Emperor Nero, whose Greek name transliterated into Hebrew has the numeric value of 666, whereas his Latin name written into Hebrew is 616 (30), another etymological fallacy. Even those who bring up the textual variants of 616 being listed in verse 18 as the “number of the beast” have noted that 616 is the alleged numerical value of Nero Ceasar in Latin, which is also incorrect, as the name in Latin, apparently corresponds to the number 666 as well. In most New Testament manuscripts, the number is rendered as 666, but the variant 616 is found in critical editions of the Greek text, such as in the Novum Testamentum Graece. The variant that some preteists argue for 616 in Latin, is actually the name bearing that of Caligula in Greek. The book itself was written in Greek, thus addressed to Greek speaking citizens of the empire, and undoubtedly would find its code in a language that would be familiar to those who would receive it.

In Caesuric culture it was common for these leaders to have their name abbreviated, as in Julius Caesar for  C. IVLIVS CAESAR, and likewise was especially noticeable on the coins that were minted during their reigns. Julius Caesar’s name is properly rendered GAIVS IVLIVS CAESAR (the spelling CAIVS is also attested and is interchangeable with the more common GAIVS, however the letter C was used with its antique pronunciation of [g], as it was an adaptation of Greek gamma. In The White Goddess, Robert Graves noted concerning the Roman numerological phrase DCLXVI, 666 abbreviates the Latin text “Domitianus Caesar Legatos Xti Violenter Interfecit,” or “The Emperor Domitian violently killed the envoys of Christ.”

“Ethelbert Stauffer was a German Protestant theologian who held that gematria, the numerology of the Hebrew language and alphabet, could be used to explain the Biblical number 666. Stauffer computed this “Number of the Beast” using the short form of Domitian’s names and titles: Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus… which in Greek is: Autokrator Kaisar Dometianos Sebastos Germanikos. The latter abbreviates to A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE.” (31) It would not be far from the truth for John to be sitting in prison on Patmos, holding issued currency in which the laureate read AYTO KAI ΘE YI ΔOMITIANOΣ ΣE ΓEP and quickly decipher gematria codex from it, warning his readers of the upcoming campaign that was about to befall them. Yet any attempt to prove it with numerology is flawed for one reason only. These interpretations involved working backwards or forwards, or mixed and matched to support the presupposition of the scholar, which historically removes itself from the time frame, or the common usages of the names, titles, or namesake’s that John would have used in codex, if this was the case and true meaning in which John was alluding to, or outright saying. To find 666 and get a proposition that fits, does not constitute as proof, and it would be possible to take a variety of combinations of those ancient Hebrew, Greek or Latin letters and get them to add up to 666 or 616 for that matter. All you have to do is get a set of letters that work, arrange them into a convenient order and add some vowels with no numerical value. However, the preterist takes a relatively uncommon form of Nero’s name, Nero Cæsar or Cæsar Nero, and adds an “n”, resulting in Neron Cæsar. Next, the Latin is transliterated into Aramaic, resulting in nrwn qsr, which when using the numeric equivalent of the letters lines up to 666.  Again, it is evident here that preterism, and some scholars supporting this particular view, have taken it upon themselves to arbitrarily utilize a form of the name that is not only uncommon in historical literature, but is also etymologically incorrect.  The example of this spelling has been discovered in one of the Dead Sea scrolls, without the added “n” resulted in 616. Interestingly, some early manuscripts have 616 rather than 666, but even scholars such as Irenæus [120-202 AD] attribute the 616 to only a copyist error (32), “this number [666] being found in all the most approved and ancient copies” [of the Apocalypse] and asserts that ”men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony” to it as in the number 666. Finally to set the matter to rest,there is a glaring problem with this calculation. According to the rules of Jewish numerology, known as gematria, when the letter Nun appears a second time in a word (in this case), it is known as a “Final”, and takes the value of 700 (33). So to be precise, NRWN QSR actually adds up to 1316 and not 666, which unfortunately for preterists supporting this error, can find no comfort in this argument at all, and if they do, they do so by being historically and etymologically inept

This issue is really who or what does 666 signify, and how does it pertain to the Roman Empire, whether it be Nero and/or Domitian, and what historical weight does it have in contrast to the churches that are discussed in the apocalypse of St. John? The internal evidence definitely points to the Roman Empire, and it also points to both Nero and Domitian, but it is embellished with symbolism that was commonly known throughout the empire in forms Jewish Mysticism.  The Mother of all harlots, according to Jewish literature was none other than Adam’s first wife, Lilith (and there is no other interpretation otherwise), who was cast out of the garden of Eden and found her domicile in the wilderness by the Red Sea, riding none other than a winged beast, where she fornicated (or sometimes metaphorically described as getting drunk) with the kingdoms of the world, bearing little demon children to tempt and kill the children of Israel (34). In contrast to the Mother of All Living, Eve, you find her antagonist, the Mother of all Harlots and Abominations, Lilith, the ex-wife who got the boot. One of the proverbial zeniths to John’s climatic onslaught and historically symbolic record of the battle between the forces of good and evil, is that this whore, or rather mystery woman, is the sole conspirator who developed and gave foundation to the pagan religions and dominating world powers that have been responsible for the persecution of the saints, namely that of Israel, and then, to the budding churches in Asia Minor, who John addressed in the book of Revelation.  The Beast of Revelation 13 clearly identifies the wounded head, and the revival of that head (Nero Redivivus) (35) in Domitian and the second and most bloody Nero, marking the beginning of over two hundred more years of persecution for the church. Emperor Domitian decreed the systematic persecution of Christians, at first in Asia Minor and then in other parts of the Roman Empire. St. John the Theologian, having been summoned to Rome, was there thrown into a kettle of boiling oil and remained unscathed. Domitian then exiled St. John to the island of Patmos, where the Apostle received the Revelation regarding the fate of the Church and the whole world. With but a few interruptions, the bloody persecutions of the Church continued to the year 313, when Emperor Constantine proclaimed the Edict of Milan, allowing the free practice of religion.

The final point involving the text in which the preterist tends to try and historically assert on an issue is that the seven kings, or heads and horns (Rev 13::1; 17:9-10) somehow points to a numerical code that is highlighting the line of Emperors until Nero. We must understand that taking the 12 Caesars to be depicted as a backdrop for the numerology of Revelation 17:10 is not only arbitrary, it is also historically and theologically inept. Suetonius’ Lives of the 12 Caesars had not been authored until the reign of Hadrian, which was seven Caesars from the end of the twelve followed by two more, misplacing the idea that the “12 Caesars” is a basis for the numerology or had anything to do with the codex John used. It could be asserted that John was merely referring to a chronological list to the Year of the Four Emperors and Flavian Dynasty with Domitian as the 6th king, and Marcus Aurelius as the 8th, who brought about empire wide and public persecutions upon Christians allegedly greater than Domitian or Nero could have ever mustered up, and the criteria in which Aurelius inflicted upon the Christian elect exceedingly fits the thematic structure of Revelation over the two alleged beasts of Rome this article is discussing.  Maybe another article altogether there eh?

Preterists make this mistake in Rev 17:10 by focusing on seven kings for the Roman “kings” since Julius, however it is internally clear that these kings are associated with 7 kingdoms (verse 9) Egypt, Eze 29:1 – 30:26 ; Assyria and Nineveh, Nah 3:1-19 ; Babylon, Rev 18:2, Jer 50:1; 51:64 ; Medo-Persia, Dan 8:3-7, 20-22; 10:13; 11:2 ; Greece, Dan 11:4, which Rome was “the one” existing in John’s day. John is revealing that these seven kings, are directly associated with the seven kingdoms, which are the descendants of the sons of Noah (verse 3)…i.e. the kingdoms that have had power over the holy people since their inception. As we have seen time and time again, Revelation is heavily laden with codes, symbols that seldom appear in the Bible, highlighting a more regional (Mesopotamia) symbolism intermixed with hardcore Judaism that had developed during the captivity, something that we see evident in Daniel’s writing (Dan 7:7,20,24) that carried on into other minor prophets after the return from exile. It must also be noted that Revelation doesn’t use the proper “Gog, from the land of Magog…” (Eze 38:2) as in original Ezekiel text, but altered expression “Gog and Magog” – a pre-rabbinical term used by John to describe 70 nations of the world, not apostate Judaism as some preterists argue. Since the numerical value (Gematria) of “Gog and Magog” in Hebrew is 70, it is obvious that the seven heads and ten horns are a Hebraic numerological code, referring to the 70 (7 X 10) nations that descended from Noah’s three sons. Coupled with the themes surrounding the Mother of all Harlots and her winged beast, the picture becomes much more clearer than what the book meticulously eludes the preterist both historically and theologically, when he is faced with trying to force the ideology that time of Nero is the beast’s thematic zenith and the era in which it was written was prior to 70 AD. These are the nations that refuse to celebrate Feast of Tabernacles according to the Rabbinical and Biblical tradition.  4th century Rabbi  Ashi comments “the temple was the universal center of spirituality, which the prophet Isaiah referred to as a house for all nations. Services in the Holy Temple during the week of Sukkot had featured a total of 70 bull offerings, which corresponded to each of the 70 nations of the world.” Who was responsible for all this of course is the Mother of Harlots, who had fornicated with all of them, guilty for the death of God’s people (i.e. the saints). This mother of all harlots is charged by Jewish clergy with not only her consistent persecution of the Jewish people, but is known to have infected the Jewish church with her apostatical influence. This brings deeper meaning to Paul’s words in 2 Thess 2:3-4.

This kingdom of Rome, ruled consecutively for several hundred more years, who had “made war with the Lamb” and His saints. It began with Nero, only locally within Rome itself, and very disorganized, as history states emphatically, as well in that it didn’t just end there (and the Lamb shall overcome them), picking back up when Domitian assumed the throne – more intensified, and very diabolically methodical, which was decreed law (“Lord and God”) that if anyone who did NOT worship the Emperor, would be guilty of death. As discussed, this was not employed by Nero, and was the main thrust for the apocalypse of St. John, wherein the Christian people who had heard about or experienced in Nero, would in fact become much more intensive when Domitian assumed the throne and started his 3 and 1/2 campaign (93-96 AD ending with his death) against those who refused to bow in worship of him as the son of God. Emperor worship was very popular in Asia minor (an area that saw no persecution under Nero), and the Angora was a marketplace where people sold and bought their goods, with a very bustling one in Ephesus as the regional center.  To enter this place of trade, one would have to offer homage to the Roman gods, and during Domitian’s reign, to him as well as the son of god. This undoubtedly was in John’s mind when he offered the outcome for those who did not take the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16) and refrained from doing business there. Under Caligula, Nero and those successors to Domitian, the emperor-cult continued as one of the established religious institutions, but its progress is not signalized by edicts enforcing it, or by notorious persecutions arising from it. It is in the reign of Domitian (81-96) that we reach an insistence upon the cults more vehement and more threatening for the future.  Clement of Rome, contemporary with Domitian, refers to his course in the quite general words ‘the sudden and repeated calamities and adversities which have befallen us.’  “We are told by ancient Roman writers that toward the end of Domitian’s reign there was more chaos in the cultural and social spheres of the Empire than in any prior time. Furthermore, we are informed that Domitian insisted on greater divine titles than earlier emperors in order to increase his tyrannical hold on the reigns of government.” “Those refusing to acknowledge these new titles were persecuted.” (36). Coins that were struck during this final period of his reign read on its laureate: AYTO KAI ΘE YI ΔOMITIANOΣ ΣE ΓEP signifying the “Imperator Caesar Son of God Domitian Augustus Germanicus” (37), affirming the high probability John had this coin in his hand further inferring that this text was in his mind when he applied the alleged gematria codex of 666 bearing A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE.

It is no doubt that the Apocalypse of St. John refers to the growing intolerance Christianity was to the Roman gubernatorial system, and the coming persecutions that were to befall the ever-so growing population of Christians was apparent in the lives and literature of the early church. But after all of this, is it still a solid argument that preterists would assume the early date for the authorship to the Apocalypse of St. John? Is it still possible to be a preterist, yet remain in full support of the late date for the Apocalypse?  Historical Preterism is founded on meticulous research and the acceptance of sound preterist principles, yet still affirming the Orthodox positions that bind the church at large, regardless of denomination, that Christ will come again and raise the dead, and not inferring the irresponsible scholarship of those who wish to assume and presuppose ideologies, that are seemingly outweighed by the historical, etymological, patrological, and thematic support that the book and the surrounding literary culture recorded, and is evidenced.  It is by this research, that it can safely be said the early date for the Apocalypse of St. John is merely founded on these unsupported errors which now gives rise for a solid case to a late date preterism that historical preterists can affirm.

  1. Tertullian, Ad nat., 1.7. Barnes T.D. “Legislation against the Christians” pg. 35. J. W. P. Borleffs, Institutum Neronianum ‘, VChr vi (I952), 129 ff
  2. Nero.” Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. 2005. “Christianity.” Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. 2005, Epistle 10 – Pliny to Emperor Trajan
  3. Green,Gene L, The Letters to the Thessalonians: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, Eerdmans/Apollos, 2002
  4. The Ultimate Sinner: Paul & the Antichrist in Political Context James R. Harrison, Wesley Institute
  5. S. Wilkinson, Caligula 28
  6. D. Chilton, Days of Vengeance [Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987], p. 16
  7. Church History, Book. III, chap. 18
  8. Church History, Bk. III, ch. 20
  9. Commentary on the Apocalypse, 11
  10. Commentary on the Apocalypse, XVII
  11. The Rich Man, XLII
  12. Address to Donatus, Ch 3
  13. The Rich Man, XLII
  14. Lives of Illustrious Men, Ch IX
  15. Against Jovinianus, Book 1, 26
  16. The Sacred History, Ch 31
  17. Horae Apocalypticae, E. B. Elliott, vol. I, p. 36
  18. The Twelve Apostles, XLIX
  19. Horae Apocalypticae, vol. I, p. 37
  20. Horae Apocalypticae, vol. I, p. 38-39
  21. Horae Apocalypticae, vol. I pg. 39, footnote 1
  22. Acts of the Holy Apostle John, Exile and Departure
  23. Church History, Book 3, Ch 20
  24. Church History, Book 3, Ch 23
  25. J.A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament
  26. Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fel
  27. Arthur M. Ogden: (The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets, Ogden Publications, 1991, pg. 8). Steve Hamilton: ( A. R. Faussett: The Revelation of St. John the Divine; Jamieson, Fausset Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871) expanded electronic edition
  28. Varia Sacra, Lugd. Bat., 1694
  29. Coniectanea Neotestamentica XI in honorem Antonii Fridrichsen sexagenarii, Ethelbert Stauffer
  30. Cory, Catherine A. 2006, The Book of Revelation. pg. 59
  31. One Coin at a Time, Brett Telford
  32. Against Heresies: Book V Chapter xxx
  33. Behind Numerology, by Shirley Blackwell Lawrence, copyright 1989
  34. Behind Numerology, by Shirley Blackwell Lawrence, copyright 1989
  35. Augustine of Hippo, City of God XX.19.3, DieOffenbarung des Johannes, Tubingen: J.C.B.Mohr, 1926; “Handbuch zum NeuenTestament”, pp. 115-15
  36. Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 5 ; Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 200,204
  37. Merrill Gibson of Apollo Numismatics