The First Christians in Their Social Worlds: Social-Scientific Approaches to New Testament Interpretation

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Sorcery accusations and the Apocalypse

POLITICAL OPPRESSION IN THE APOCALYPSE?

The imagery of the beast in the Apocalypse, especially in chapter 13 with its allusions to the fourth beast and suffering holy ones of Daniel 7, raises the possibility that John and his readers were also caught up in the brutalities of imperial domination. As we have just seen, 4 Ezra, probably written about the same time as the Apocalypse, expressly links the Danielic fourth beast to the eagle, a creature which refers to Rome, whose eagle-bearing legions had devastated Jerusalem and killed, enslaved or exiled most of its population. Although one cannot demonstrate a direct connection between the Apocalypse and 4 Ezra, it would hardly be surprising if the author of the Christian work, who was heir to the same Jewish scriptural tradition, also turned to Daniel in a situation of Roman oppression. This is not to say, however, that John would have been interested in the same acts of domination, in particular the destruction of Jerusalem. Although the Apocalypse was probably written after 70 CE and in two passages at least seems to presuppose that the Temple has been destroyed (11.1-2 and 21.22), the fact of its destruction is of no great concern to the author, nor would one necessarily expect such concern from a Christian writer towards the end of the first century. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the beast is capable of at least one type of violence which was of great significance to the author—the martyrdom of Christians. Was the Apocalypse composed in response to actual or threatened persecution by Rome? Does such a context underlie the existence of the work or features of it?

There is little doubt that the work was written subsequent to a time in which a large number of Christians had been martyred. The general statement in 13.7 that the beast was allowed to make

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