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4. PROPHECY CONCERNING ROME AND THE FIRST BEAST.
But the city of Rome takes an even more important place than Jerusalem in the Apocalypse. Fear of the authorities, who might think the prophecies about it dangerous to the State, leads the author to mention the city not by its real name, but by that of Babylon, which, as was well known, was in the Old Testament associated with an equal amount of wickedness; but xvii. 5 f., 9, 18 make it clear enough to every intelligent reader what city is meant. In chap. xviii., which, like xi. 1-13, may have been a separate leaflet, the description of its overthrow is quite different from that given in the other parts of the book.
In these we find connected with it the most important figure in the whole Apocalypse, the (first) beast, that is to say, the Roman imperium. It supports and carries the woman, as the city of Rome is also called (xvii. 3, 7), it has a throne, kingdom, dominion over the world (xiii. 2, 7; xvi. 10), and, in particular, seven heads, that is to say, as we learn in xvii. 9 f., seven kings, of whom the first five have fallen, one is now reigning, and the seventh is still to come. The first five Roman emperors, who are here intended, were Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The author of chap. xvii. therefore writes after Nero’s death, which took place on the 9th of June in the year 68; and the same date suits chap. xiii. Nero, it is true, had no real successors; but Galba, Otho, and Vitellius struggled for the mastery until Vespasian seized it for himself in December of the year 69. Yet it is by no means certain that he was numbered as the sixth, and that the one and a half years of the dispute about the succession are excluded. A person who lived in the second half of the 223year 68 could only say, as our author does, “the sixth emperor is now reigning,” though in other parts of the extensive Roman empire his rule was disputed.
There is something else which suggests that the time intended is that immediately following Nero’s death. By the beast we are not always meant to understand the Roman imperium in general, but sometimes a single emperor. There is no mistake when it is said in xiii. 7 f., “and there was given to him (that is to say, the beast) authority over every tribe . . . and all that dwell on the earth shall worship him” and in xiii. 14, “to the beast who hath the stroke of the sword, and lived.” Add to this xvii. 8, 11: “the beast . . . was and (now) is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss . . . and the beast that was, and is not, is himself the eighth, and at the same time is one of the seven (Roman Emperors), and he goeth into perdition.”
To which Roman Emperor does this apply? When Nero saw that his rule was at an end, he fled in the company of a few persons to an estate, and on hearing his pursuers approaching, with the help of his secretary he cut his throat with a sword. His corpse was solemnly burned. But his friends, especially amongst the mob, refused to believe that he was dead; they imagined that he had made his escape and would shortly return and wrest back his power.
A heathen could not reconcile these two accounts of Nero’s end; but a Christian (or a Jew), believing as he did in a resurrection, could very well do so. Accordingly, all that we read about the beast in the Apocalypse would apply to Nero: the sword-wound, the death, the return from the underworld, to which every one went when he died, and the statement that this risen person who is to appear as the eighth emperor, was one of the seven preceding emperors. We know indeed that impostors were continually coming 224forward and claiming to be Nero. The very first, who arose as early as the year in which Nero died, created a disturbance for months along the whole of the west coast of Asia Minor as well as in Greece. And this makes it probable that these sections of the Apocalypse date from that time, and so from 68 or 69.
Those who, as we mentioned above, claim that the sixth place must be assigned to the Emperor Vespasian, and that this was the reign in which the author lived, may still discover the reason for his statements in the appearance of this false Nero, if they suppose that they were written in the first period of Vespasian, that is to say at the be ginning of the year 70. On the other hand, the next false Nero of whom we hear did not appear at the end of the reign of Vespasian, but in the days of his successor, Titus. But a person who wrote in this reign (79-81) could in no circumstances say that he was living in the reign of the sixth Emperor.
It has been thought that the expectation that the resuscitated Nero would be the eighth Emperor could only have been held when the seventh had already ascended the throne; otherwise a seventh would not have been prophesied. But the writer’s conviction that Rome would have seven emperors was drawn from the Old Testament book of Daniel. This represents the matter in such a way that it might have been composed in the sixth century B.C. (in reality it was not written until 167-164 B.C.), and prophesies in vii. 1-8 that there will appear one after another a lion, a bear, a panther with four heads, and another terrible beast with ten horns. According to vii. 17, what are meant are four empires which will rule the world one after another, the Babylonian down to 539 B.C., the Median which really ended as early as 550, the Persian, 225539-330, to which the author assigns four kings instead of eleven, and the Greek with ten kings in Syria, to the last among whom the Jews were subject.
Since the author of the Apocalypse does not pretend, like the book of Daniel, to prophesy so many centuries before the time in which he really lived, he speaks of only one world-wide empire, that of Home. Since, however, the book of Daniel and its description of the empires ruling the world was held to be a divine prophecy, which in the author’s lifetime still waited for fulfilment, he (or one of his predecessors) has made its four beasts into one, which now, according to xiii. 1 f., has at the same time the characteristics of the lion, the bear, and the panther, and the ten horns of the fourth beast, but the seven heads of all four which these have all together. The idea that the end of the world is at hand is reckoned with, in spite of the seventh emperor, by representing in xvii. 10 that he will reign for a short time.
Here again we can note well how the Apocalypse borrows its descriptions from an older prophecy, which it held to be sacred, and how at the same time it adapts this prophecy to its own present. This enables us to understand fully such a figure as that of the beast, which is really very curious. In other cases as well, the author continually takes his expressions and even whole sentences from the Old Testament. It may be, however, that several remarkable descriptions in the book are derived from other old prophecies, perhaps suggested by myths about the gods of the Babylonians or Persians.226
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