(The following is substantially derived from a portion of my thesis [2008, Jewish Imagery in the Book of Revelation: Are Popular Interpretations of the Book of Revelation Anti-Judaic?, Anglia Ruskin University] and may not be reproduced in part or in whole without written permission from firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dating the book of Revelation has almost as vast a range of contentions as the images contained in the work itself. However, dominant dual traditions hold that the text was written either:
- near the end of the first century CE, during the persecutory reign of Domitian. Although much of this tradition rests upon some of Irenaeus’ (Against Heresies, V:30:3) minor comments on the book of Revelation and the ambiguous reference to something having been seen “at the end of Domitian’s reign” as the reason for dating it thus, it is significant none of the major proponents of this late date comment on Irenaeus’ confession that the number of the antichrist’s name had been confirmed via “all the most approved and ancient copies [of the Apocalypse], . .” (emphasis mine);
- prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Kepler (1957, p. 19) mentions the possibility of an earlier date for composition of the text by citing incorrectly from Irenaeus that “Epiphanius makes the odd statement that the exile of John to the isle of Patmos was during the reign of Claudius (41-54)” (Epiphanius, Panarion/Heresies 51:12, 33) – an ‘oddness’ deserving investigation. Newton (2007, online) cites Arethas as “affirm[ing that] the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem”. Most intriguing of all is the puzzling observation in the 170 CE Muratorian Fragment (http://www.bible-researcher.com/muratorian.html), which states that the “(48) apostle Paul himself, following the example of his predecessor . . . John, writes by name to only seven churches . . .”. However, if Paul died around 64 CE, how would he have known about John’s seven letters to the churches if they were written after 64 CE?
A more recent examination of the dating of Revelation finds it difficult to reconcile the free circulation of a text full of Messianic Jewish imagery and minutiae during a time of great persecution or war directed particularly at Jews. Such examination suggests that it was quite possible this enigmatic text was written and circulated at a time when Jews were not quite as unpopular in the Diaspora as at other times, such as during the period between the death of another persecutory Emperor, Nero (68 CE), and the fall of Jerusalem (70 CE) in the Judean War (66-74 CE):
- Marshall (2001, pp. 118-120) cites a number of scholars who don’t believe Jews in the Diaspora supported the Jewish war effort, which could allow for a period of less unpopularity. However, Marshall believes “some Diaspora Jews could quite plausibly have had high expectations for the city of Jerusalem . . . and could quite easily have been instigators of strife with or targets of harassment by their neighbours in the Hellenistic cities of the Roman Empire” and that John was writing to “urge the audience to maintain their distinctiveness from the surrounding nations and thereby to participate in the defence of God’s holy city—Jerusalem”.
While Rowland (1982, p. 413), like Marshall, settled on an earlier dating for the text, “[t]he historical circumstances presented by the Jewish War and the apparent break-up of the empire seem to offer the most appropriate time of writing of the book of Revelation”, his summation that “the precise dating of Revelation does not radically affect the exegesis of the document, as the issues which appear to confront the writer can be understood in broadly similar terms whenever we date it” (1982, p. 403), assumes that the text was written to Christians, and not strictly Messianic Jews. (Further to this see The Revelation of Yeshua Ha’Mashiach)
(added October 17, 2011)
The importance of correctly dating the book of Revelation lies in how Messianic Jews and the New Testament will be dealt with in the future. It is interesting to note that while the Apostle Paul points to issues with ‘factions’ and the ‘circumcision party’ the documents in the New Testament, as currently dated, are never considered to represent the views of either of those antagonists. Any documents containing ‘divisive’ or contrary information than that accepted into the official Canon, are considered more ‘mythical’ in orientation and ‘heretical’ by many. Even the book of Revelation had its detractors before it was finally accepted into Canon. Those accepting it into Canon could have only accepted it in toto with a late date of origin – nothing could appear to be in direct conflict with what the Apostle Paul had written. If the book of Revelation was upheld as having a late date, then anything in it that appeared contrary to Paul’s teachings could be pointed to as being problems with ‘Jews’ of the period of that later date rather than with a community in conflict with Paul and Gentile converts at an earlier date. The late dating, ‘de-Judaizing’ of the text, and Patristic interpretations, points to the existence of antisemitism/anti-Judaism within the ranks of the ‘faithful’ hierarchy, who determined who would rule the new dominant faith, what adherents would be taught, and who was not to be included among its ranks – practicing Messianic Jews.
Thankfully, texts (I also contend that the book of James is a text written specifically to the Messianic Jewish community) were preserved to show that a vibrant Messianic Jewish community did indeed exist in the first-century. The distinction between communities must be acknowledged if there is to be honesty in unity – let honesty begin with the long-overdue re-dating of the book of Revelation.
I hope this brief introduction to a few of the issues surrounding the dating of the book of Revelation will spur you to further investigation, so that you might grow in knowledge and understanding.
New York: Oxford University Press.